Joseph’s Dream, Rembrandt c.1646, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.
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………the angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and 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. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20.
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All the events surrounding the conception, birth and life of Jesus are so well known that it is difficult to think of something new, if not impossible. Brooding on this daunting reality, I thought of the angel’s instruction to Joseph “you are to name him Jesus”. Then I remembered Juliet’s reflection on “name” in Shakespeare’s tragedy. She says, essentially, that a name is simply a name; a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, she says. Yet it’s Romeo’s name, Montague, which makes him forbidden to her because of the feud between that family and hers, the Capulets. So it is a conundrum. But clearly today’s gospel angel, a word which means messenger, expressed God’s divine will: this child will be called Jesus, therefore it must be a very special name. Indeed. Jesus comes to us from the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name Yeshua, יֵשׁוּעַ today’s modern Joshua (remember all the Christian Scriptures were written in Greek). There is no “sh” sound in Greek; the nearest a Greek tongue could get to it was Ἰησοῦς, Hiēsous. In the Aramaic original, this means “God (Yehu) Saves”. In the person of Jesus, therefore, there is to be found humanity’s salvation. Yes, a mighty name indeed. Poor Joseph though. He must have been reeling from the revelation that Mary was “found with child” before their marriage had been consummated. Decent man that he was, he intended to divorce her as quietly as possible to avoid pain. Hence the angel’s arrival with the shattering news that God was responsible for her condition! And not only that, but that this child was therefore the Son of God and that he would save us all, hence his name. He was the Messiah!
Today’s gospel simply says Joseph took Mary into his home. He was probably incapable of any response at all, simply obeying God’s will as expressed through the angel. He might have thought of today’s first reading from the prophet Ahaz, that “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” and seen this whole event as prophetic fulfillment. God said to Ahaz that the child’s name will be Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” – which Jesus was. The second reading seems to pull all this together, with St. Paul reflecting that in Jesus, “for the sake of his name”, we are all, Jews and Gentiles together, called to belong to the Lord Jesus, all of us called to be holy. Hence the stage is set for the arrival of the Christ Child, the hopes and fears of all the years. Now the thing to ask ourselves is, are we ready to receive the Christ Child with love, hope and generous faith? There is still time….
Angel with the Trumpet, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Granada, Spain.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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