The Holy Family unites to bring us Jesus, and so God is with us. So we learn in Matthew 1:18-24.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him 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.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
This is a beautiful story of the Holy Family’s beginning. Mary is betrothed to Joseph but is found to be with child. He is a good man, not wanting to shame Mary; while still not wanting to bring shame onto his family, he decides to divorce her quietly. Then the angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and explains her pregnancy and tells him not to be afraid to make Mary his wife. And being the man of faith that he is, Joseph takes Mary into his home.
A couple of things strike me about this passage of the Gospels. One is how faithful Joseph is, not unlike Mary. He is blessed by a visit from the angel of the Lord and he acts out of pure faith. The second is what a good man he is, not wanting to bring shame on Mary even before he knows the source of her pregnancy. Joseph is a good and decent man. God chose him wisely and he chose Mary wisely to be the parents of His Son.
We don’t know much about Joseph from the Gospels. At a warning from the angel of the Lord, he whisks Jesus and Mary off to Egypt because there is the danger that Herod will kill Jesus. He raises Jesus as his own son, teaching Him his own trade, carpentry. Joseph is worried right along with Mary when at the age of 12 Jesus is missing in the caravan returning from Jerusalem, and Joseph rushes back with Mary to find Him in the big city. But other than that, there are few details about the man God chose to be Jesus’ human dad.
Yet, here is the kernel of the story that begins for us in the story of Jesus (“God saves” or “God is salvation”), the story of a virgin who will bear a son and they shall call him Emmanuel (“God is with us”).
(Incidentally, I wondered why the angel told them to name him Jesus but scripture foretold that they would name him Emmanuel. Looking it up, in the latter, “they will name him” means the people will call him, in the same sense that people often ascribe a moniker to someone for what he or she has done or how he or she performs, like calling Babe Ruth “The King of Swat.”)
And there are two key messages to his “name” that are very important.
One is that Jesus is here to save us. Save us from what? From damnation, certainly. But also save us from ourselves, our tendency to do things our own way when God tells us to do it another. When we act against God’s will, we are being rebellious, we are not acting in faith with God. That’s being faithless. Time and again, Jesus tells those he cures, “It is your faith that has saved you.” God gives us laws by which to live. What are the most important laws? To love — to love God, to love one another.
The other is that in Jesus, God is with us. He came among us physically as the Son of God in the form of man, and He often refers to Himself as Son of Man. He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, ate as we eat, feels as we feel, saw the sun shine, felt the rain pour, smelled the flowers bloom, tasted foods, probably got a little heady drinking wine, all as we do. He did all things that we do except sin. He became human and lived the human experience and then died the human experience for us.
Why? Jesus didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk. He put his money where his mouth was, to use two very common idioms. Because we can relate to His experience and better appreciate His sacrifice when it is so close to our own. He loved us enough to be like us and rather than simply come and go, He suffered a horrific death on the cross. Then He conquered death and returned to lead the way to resurrection that we might follow. Truly a gift of Biblical proportions.
And all this began when Mary and Joseph accepted their being chosen by God as Jesus’ human parents. And so, for the liturgical calendar, the story begins.
One final point. We believe as Christians that Jesus is with us in spirit. If you’re a Catholic, you also believe that Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist and the wine made blood. Some Protestant faiths believe versions of that. Once Jesus is in our lives, He never leaves us. God is with us.