Isaiah 7:10-14 Ps. 24:1-2,3-4,5-6 Rom 1:1-7 ?Matt 1:18-24
Just one week away from the Christmas day, the attention shifts to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Instead of the testimony of John the Baptist, which heralded Jesus’s earthly ministry, attention is on the testimony of the Angel of God, which heralded the birth of Jesus.
The Gospel reading today goes back to the first chapter of Matthew, where the announcement of the Angel about the birth of Jesus was made to Joseph. Quite unlike Luke, Matthew places Joseph at the center of his narrative, instead of Mary. This is understandable owing to the fact that he started his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, within which Joseph becomes the link between Jesus and David.
The first reading of today has a lot in common with the gospel reading. While the first reading presents the unacceptance of the sign of ‘God with us’ by the house of Judah, the Gospel presents the acceptance and faithfulness of the house of Joseph. In the first reading, Isaiah the Prophet had the unpleasant task of preaching to Ahaz, a king whose mind was already set on evil ways. Taking a glance at the background of the text, the kingdom of Israel suffered a lot of trials in the 8th Century BC.
First was the division of the Northern (Israel) and the Southern (Judah) kingdoms, which resulted in the general decline of their military strength.
Secondly, this division made the two kingdoms an easy prey to the power thirsty king of Assyria. Consequently Israel, the Northern kingdom, had to combine forces with Syria to stand against Assyria, while Ahaz, the King of Judah refused to join them.
On the contrary, Ahaz, in order to seek protection for Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, from the combined forces of Israel (the Northern kingdom) and Syria, sold himself to the Assyrians, accepting their gods in the temple in Jerusalem and trusting in their protection.
This situation was what brought Isaiah to Ahaz. Isaiah had tried to make Ahaz remember the great deeds of the Lord to the people of Israel and to entrust the kingdom to God, rather than the unreliable Assyrians, but he refused. In the bid to assure Ahaz of God’s faithfulness, Isaiah asked him to ask a sign of the Lord, but Ahaz, whose mind was already made up, employed false piety by stating he would never put God to a test.
In frustration, Isaiah went ahead to prophesy to Judah, “Listen oh house of Israel, is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall name him ‘Immanuel’, (‘God with us’, Is. 7:14).
Many exegetes find primary reference of this prophecy to Ahaz’s immediate family where, however, the fulfilment of the Prophecy leaves a question mark. Matthew, on the other hand, considers the virginal birth of Jesus to be the main fulfilment of this Prophecy (Matthew 1:22-23).
In the Gospel reading, Joseph had a major challenge of accepting God’s will against the strong cultural current of the Jews. In the Jewish culture, a woman who conceives outside wedlock is considered to be a disgrace to her father’s house, and should be stoned at the gate of her father’s house with her child. If bethroded to a man, like in the case of Joseph, the man must make a public rejection of her, leaving her to the wrath of the people.
But in this case, Joseph chose to obey the words of the Angel spoken in his dream. Ahaz did not obey the word of God spoken by Isaiah. Following Matthew’s thought, that “all this” took place to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy, it then means that the prophecy of Isaiah was pointing directly to these events.
Thus, all that happened at the birth of Jesus was actually a sign to the house of Judah! The child that is born is a sign of God’s presence among His people and will bring salvation! Who and who are referred to as the tribe of Judah if this prophecy has a relevance in the present time? Surely all of us believers who are the new family of God. What are the differences between the house of Judah and the house of Joseph? The house of Judah led by Ahaz wearied men and God.
They trusted in their own designs. They disobeyed God and his prophet. They practiced false piety. On the other hand, the house of Joseph, though weighed down by a rear challenge did not weary God. He obeyed and accepted God’s divine will.
Everyone in the Holy family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, remained obedient to God. They did not seek their own will but the will of God. They, therefore, remain a sign for us who are the new family of God.
We must learn never to embrace options presented by the devil. We must obey God at all times. In times of insecurity, the challenges are higher. We may be tempted in different ways to find allies with the unrighteous.
Assyria did not save the the house of Judah, thus false alliances may not save us. Let us accept the sign of the ‘Immanuel’, ‘God with us’ and put all our trust in God, especially within this season. May the presence of God be felt in your family in a great way, through Christ our Lord, amen.
Fr. Precious Ezeh