Friday 7 September 2012

The Nativity of Mary - Would your life have been any different if Jesus had not been born?

If you wish to read the texts click here: Mi 5:1-4a; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 1:1-23

The source for the story of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel written around 150 C.E. From it, we learn the names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, as well as the tradition that the couple was childless until an angel appeared to Anna and told her that she would conceive.
The traditional date of the feast, September 8, falls exactly nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
The readings clearly indicate that the feast of the nativity of Mary is a preparation for the feast of the Nativity of Jesus. Mary is that open vessel who allowed God to work in her and so enabled God to bring to fruition through her Son Jesus, the salvation of the whole human race.
The text chosen for the feast is from the Gospel of Matthew and contains the Genealogy and the story of the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus.
 Jesus is, for Matthew, the Messiah who has descended from David, as foretold by the scriptures. God continues to act in human history, and that God acts now, in a decisive way, in the sending of God’s Son. God is not simply a God in the heavens, but a God who is Emmanuel, God with us.
Matthew’s genealogy consists of three parts. The first, which begins with Abraham, ends with the Davidic kingship. The second begins with David and ends with the deportation or exile to Babylon. The third begins with the exile and ends with the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Matthew calls attention to the number fourteen at the end of the genealogy and, though a variety of suggestions have been offered as to why he chose fourteen, the simplest explanation is that the numerical value of “David” in Hebrew (DWD) is fourteen (d, 4; w, 6; d, 4). By this symbolism, Matthew points out that the promised "son of David" (1:1), the Messiah, has come. And, if the third set of fourteen is short one member (to solve this problem some count Jechoniah twice), perhaps it suggests that, just as God cuts short the time of distress for the sake of his elect, so also he mercifully shortens the period from the Exile to Jesus, the Messiah.
Unlike Luke’s genealogy, which does not name a single woman, Matthew’s genealogy mentions four women besides Mary. These are Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Several reasons have been offered as to why Matthew mentioned these four women. Three of these reasons are widely accepted today: (a) there was something extraordinary about their union with their partners; (b) they showed initiative or played an important role in God’s plan and so came to be considered as instruments of God’s providence or of his Holy Spirit; and (c) all four women (except Mary) were Gentiles and Matthew wants to show that in God’s plan of salvation, the Gentiles were included from the beginning.
Through this, Matthew probably wants to show that God wants all to be saved and that he uses the unexpected to triumph over human obstacles and that he intervenes on behalf of his planned Messiah. This combination of scandalous and irregular union, and divine intervention, explains Matthew’s choice of the four women.
What are the points that Matthew makes in his genealogy and what does he want to achieve by it? Matthew clearly wants to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Israel’s hopes. The story of Jesus is part of the story of God’s constant saving acts throughout the history of Israel. God involves himself in the nitty-gritty of life. Despite the constant infidelity of Israel, God remained faithful and, in a definitive way, directed its history towards its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Matthew is also interested in affirming that the plan of God has often been fulfilled in history in unanticipated and “irregular” ways, as was the case in the birth of Jesus from Mary, and that Matthew is interested in showing that God worked through irregular, even scandalous ways, and through women who took initiative, like Tamar and Ruth. Yet the main reason for Matthew’s inclusion of these women corresponds to one of the Gospel’s primary themes: the inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of God from the beginning. All of the men in Jesus’ genealogy are necessarily Jewish. But the four women mentioned, with the exception of Mary, are Gentiles, “outsiders,” or considered to be such in Jewish tradition. Just as the following story shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of both Jewish and Gentile hopes, so also the genealogy shows that the Messiah comes from a Jewish line that already includes Gentiles.
By showing Jesus as descended from David, Matthew wants to explicate that Jesus is the royal heir to the throne. Jesus, however, thorough his life, cross, death and resurrection will redefine the meaning of Kingship as never before.
Finally, Matthew wants to stress that God is active constantly in history and involved in the lives of his people. He works not only miraculously but also ordinarily in human effort, pain, and struggle to bring people to the kingdom.
The genealogy is followed by the story of the birth of Jesus. Since Mary and Joseph were engaged, they were legally considered husband and wife. Thus, infidelity in this case would also be considered adultery. Their union could only be dissolved by divorce or death. Though Joseph is righteous or just, he decides not to go by the letter of the law and publicly disgrace Mary, but he chooses a quieter way of divorcing her. God, however, has other plans for both Joseph and Mary and intervenes in a dream. Joseph is addressed by the angel as “Son of David” reiterating, once again after the genealogy, the Davidic origin of Jesus. He is asked to take Mary as his wife and also informed that is the Spirit’s action that is responsible for her pregnancy. He is told that he is to give the child the name “Jesus". Jesus (Iesous) is the Greek form of "Joshua" which, whether in the long form yehosua, ("Yahweh is salvation") or in one of the short forms, yesua, ("Yahweh saves”), identifies the son, in the womb of Mary, as the one who brings God’s promised eschatological salvation. The angel explains what the name means by referring to Ps 130:8. The name “Jesus” was a popular and common name in the first century.  By the choice of such a name, Matthew shows that the Savior receives a common human name, a sign that unites him with the human beings of this world rather than separating him from them.
Matthew then inserts into the text the first of ten formula or fulfillment quotations that are found in his Gospel. This means that Matthew quotes a text from the Old Testament to show that it was fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus. Here, the text is from Isa 7:14 which, in its original context, referred to the promise that Judah would be delivered from the threat of the Syro-Ephraimitic War before the child of a young woman, who was already pregnant, would reach the age of moral discernment. The child would be given a symbolic name, a short Hebrew sentence “God is with us” (Emmanu‘el) corresponding to other symbolic names in the Isaiah story. Though this text was directed to Isaiah’s time, Matthew understands it as text about Jesus, and fulfilled perfectly in him, here in his birth and naming.
This birth narrative of Matthew invites us to reflect on a number of points. Of these, two are significant.  First, many of us are often caught in the dilemma of doing the right thing which might not always be the loving thing.  If we follow only the letter of the law, we may be doing the right thing but not the most loving thing.  However, if we focus every time on the most loving thing, like Joseph, it is surely also the right thing. Though Joseph could have done the right thing and shamed Mary by publicly divorcing her, he decides to go beyond the letter of the law and do the loving thing, which in his case was also the right thing.
Second, the story also shows us who our God is.  Our God is God with us. Our God is one who always takes the initiative, who always invites, and who always wants all of humanity to draw closer to him and to each other. This God does not come in power, might, and glory, but as a helpless child. As a child, God is vulnerable. He is fully human and in his humanity, is subject to all the limitations that humanity imposes on us. Yet, he will do even that, if only humans respond to the unconditional love that he shows.

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