The Dream of St. Joseph, de Champaigne 1643, The National Gallery, London, UK.
[The angel said] “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Matthew 1:20.
The events which followed the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, were fast and furious. Mary was unmarried, so that would have been as serious a blow to her chances of a normal life as it would have been up to, say, the 1950s. Today not so much, but we now live in a completely different world. Her intended husband Joseph on learning that she was pregnant immediately decided to end the marriage, which was quite acceptable in his Jewish society. He was going to do this “quietly”, as the gospel says, to avoid as much pain and disgrace as possible, until today’s dramatic event took place, the first of two dreams. The other was the instruction to move to Egypt after Jesus’ birth to avoid the slaughter of the innocents at the command of King Herod. The unique truth the angel revealed to him today was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in today’s first reading, that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (though the word “virgin” has been a point of contention among theologians; the original Hebrew text can be translated as “young woman” whereas the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament, has “virgin”. For a fuller explanation of that, click here). For us Christians, this is a crucial point. If we believe Jesus was totally human and also Son of God, then conception through the power of the Holy Spirit in a young virgin woman makes perfect sense and unique in history and had to take place before any marriage consummation. Poor Joseph, on the other hand, had to figure out the revelation which came in a dream; more power to him that he accepted that revelation and acted on it. One final note. The angel told Joseph to call the child Jesus. There is no such name in Hebrew. It is all but certain that the intended name was Joshua, Y’shua, (ג’ושוע in Hebrew). There is no “j” or “sh” sound in Greek, the language of the New Testament, and the closest Greek could get to that sound is Ιησούς, or “Yaysous”, close to the present Spanish pronunciation. So had you shouted out “Jesus” or “Ιησούς” to the Lord, he would not have turned round. Shout “Y’shua” and he would!
This being Advent, the time of waiting for the arrival of the Lord, perhaps all this theological chatter might be a point of reflection. I was once at a 4-day retreat with schoolboys many years ago. Parents were asked to write a love letter to their son. One such read “When I was carrying you, I couldn’t wait to meet you and get to know you and love you…” Perhaps it would be an idea for each of us to think that of the impending arrival of the Lord. If you did not know his name was Y’shua, then that sentiment expressed to that woman’s son (who was overwhelmed by it) could easily be applied to the Christmas event and to the arrival of the new baby. How can each of us meet him, welcome him and love him as a new arrival in our hearts as if for the first time?
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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(Apologies for the late posting due to circumstances….)