Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
Behold, all things are fulfilled which were spoken by the Angel of the Virgin Mary.
Let us pray.
O, Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
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 Emmanuel.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 497 The Gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility:1 “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, said the angel to Joseph about Mary his fiancee.2 The Church sees here the fulfillment of the divine promise given through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”3
CCC 712 The characteristics of the awaited Messiah begin to appear in the “Book of Emmanuel” (“Isaiah said this when he saw his glory,”4 speaking of Christ), especially in the first two verses of Isaiah 11:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.5
1 Mt 1 18-25; Lk 1:26-38.
2 Mt 1:20.
3 Is 7:14 (LXX), quoted in Mt 1:23 (Greek).
4 Jn 12:41; cf. Isa 6-12.
5 Isa 11:1-2.
In today’s prophecy, Isaiah gives us the most important detail concerning the Messiah, Christ. He was to be God as well as man. This is what Christ was, as he claimed and as he proved by his miracles and by his resurrection. What a stunning, and at the same time, what an inspiring fact this knowledge is for us! We call the Incarnation, the coming of the Son of God among us in human nature, a mystery. It is one of the basic mysteries of our Christian religion, but the mystery lies not so much in how it was done (“with God all things are possible”), but rather in the infinite, mysterious love of God for us, who are so much below him and so unworthy of his love.
It would be waste of time for us mortals, with our small, limited capacity for real love, even to try to fathom this depth of God’s love. All we can do is to be grateful for it, while we wonder at its immensity. God loved man from all eternity and decided to give him gifts of intellect and will, far beyond the gifts given to all other earthly creatures. Because of these gifts, he made man capable of enjoying an eternity of happiness, and decreed to give this eternal enjoyment to him.
The Incarnation was the means chosen by God to attain this purpose of his. He would send his divine Son to live among us, for a short time, on earth. Because his Son became real man, he became our brother, and thereby we were raised to the dignity of sons of his heavenly Father.
Man had sinned in the meantime, and had refused the obedience and reverence his intellect told him he owed to his Creator and Benefactor. This, God had foreseen, of course, but the perfect obedience and reverence rendered to the Father by his incarnate Son, “an obedience even unto the death on the cross,” made atonement and satisfaction for all the sins of all men that ever had lived or would live, and, therefore, removed the obstacle that could prevent man reaching the end God had planned for him.
Redemption from sin, in order to make man fit for heaven, was a necessary effect of the Incarnation, but the prime and principal purpose of this act of God’s love was, precisely, to show love for us, and to give effect to his intention to make us his adopted sons, and thus heirs of heaven. Now can man ever forget this love which God has shown him? How can I forget that I am no longer a mere man but an adopted son of God, that every day that passes brings me a day nearer to my entry into the inheritance God has planned for me? I have difficulties and troubles during my years on this earth, but these are the very means God is putting at my disposal to enable me to prepare myself for the life of eternal happiness that awaits me.
Christmas, especially, should remind me that he who came on earth, to make me fit for heaven, had trials and troubles far greater and bigger than mine. He in no way deserved these trials; he bore them and accepted them gladly, so that I could, one day, enter into the life where troubles and trials will be no more, “because the Lamb of God who is at the throne … will lead me to springs of living water and God will wipe away all tears” (Rev. 7: 17).
Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.
Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus,
called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God,
which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh,
but established as Son of God in power
according to the Spirit of holiness
through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 143 By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.1 With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”.2
CCC 437 To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”3 From the beginning he was “the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world”, conceived as “holy” in Mary’s virginal womb.4 God called Joseph to “take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, so that Jesus, “who is called Christ”, should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the messianic lineage of David.5
CCC 445 After his Resurrection, Jesus’ divine sonship becomes manifest in the power of his glorified humanity. He was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead”.6 The apostles can confess: “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”7
CCC 494 At the announcement that she would give birth to “the Son of the Most High” without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that “with God nothing will be impossible”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.”8 Thus, giving her consent to God’s word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace:9
As St. Irenaeus says, “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”10 Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert. ..: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”10 Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary “the Mother of the living” and frequently claim: “Death through Eve, life through Mary.”12
CCC 648 Christ’s Resurrection is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history. In it the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father’s power “raised up” Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead”.13 St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God’s power14 through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus’ dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship.
CCC 695 Anointing. The symbolism of anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit,15 to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. In Christian initiation, anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation, called “chrismation” in the Churches of the East. Its full force can be grasped only in relation to the primary anointing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that of Jesus. Christ (in Hebrew “messiah”) means the one “anointed” by God’s Spirit. There were several anointed ones of the Lord in the Old Covenant, pre-eminently King David.16 But Jesus is God’s Anointed in a unique way: the humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit established him as “Christ.”17 The Virgin Mary conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit who, through the angel, proclaimed him the Christ at his birth, and prompted Simeon to come to the temple to see the Christ of the Lord.18 The Spirit filled Christ and the power of the Spirit went out from him in his acts of healing and of saving.19 Finally, it was the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.20 Now, fully established as “Christ” in his humanity victorious over death, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit abundantly until “the saints” constitute – in their union with the humanity of the Son of God – that perfect man “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”:21 “the whole Christ,” in St. Augustine’s expression.
CCC 876 Intrinsically linked to the sacramental nature of ecclesial ministry is its character as service. Entirely dependent on Christ who gives mission and authority, ministers are truly “slaves of Christ,”22 in the image of him who freely took “the form of a slave” for us.23 Because the word and grace of which they are ministers are not their own, but are given to them by Christ for the sake of others, they must freely become the slaves of all.24
CCC 2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith”25 as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations.26 Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.
1 Cf. DV 5.
2 Cf. Rom 1:5; 16:26.
3 Lk 2:11.
4 Jn 10:36; cf. Lk 1:35.
5 Mt 1:20; cf. 1:16; Rom 1:1; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16.
6 Rom 1:3; cf. Acts 13:33.
7 Jn 1:14.
8 Lk 1:28-38; cf. Rom 1:5.
9 Cf. LG 56.
10 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A.
11 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A.
12 LC 56; St. Epiphanius, Panarion 2, 78, 18: PG 42, 728CD-729AB; St. Jerome, Ep. 22, 21: PL 22, 408.
13 Rom I 3-4; cf. Acts 2:24.
14 Cf. Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 13:4; Phil 3:10; Eph 1:19-22; Heb 7:16.
15 Cf. 1 In 2:20:27; 2 Cor 1:21.
16 Cf. Ex 30:22-32; 1 Sam 16:13.
17 Cf. Lk 418-19; Isa 61:1.
18 Cf. Lk 2:11,26-27.
19 Cf. Lk 4:1; 6:19; 8:46.
20 Cf. Rom 1:4; 8:11.
21 Eph 4:13; cf. Acts 2:36.
22 Cf. Rom 1:1.
23 Phil 2:7.
24 Cf. 1 Cor 9:19.
25 Rom 1:5; 16:26.
26 Cf. Rom 1:18-32.
Paul opens his letter to the Jewish and Gentile converts of Rome, the first generation of Christians in the capital city of the empire, by stating that he is an Apostle chosen by Christ to spread the good news of the Incarnation. He calls this news the “Gospel of God,” for it is an account of that almost incredible act of God’s love for us. God sent his divine Son, as man, among us in this world, in order that we might be with the three divine Persons for all eternity in the next world.
God does not need us : the Blessed Trinity is all-perfect and all-glorious in itself He did not have to create the universe or its inhabitants: they add nothing to his internal perfection. But, as the nature of a burning coal is to spread its heat, so the nature of the God, who is love, is to distribute his love among others outside of him. Hence creation.
Having created the universe, God brought one species of its inhabitants, human beings, to the height of created perfection. He gave man the spiritual faculties of intelligence and free-will, faculties which he himself possesses in an infinite degree. Even though these powers are limited in man, because of his limited, created nature, yet because of them, man is somewhat “like unto God.”
This was not the limit of God’s goodness. As a result of the spiritual gifts he has received, man is capable of knowing and loving God. The benevolent God decided to give him the possibility of doing this, not only for his short spell on earth, but for all eternity. Hence the Incarnation. That God could have found other ways of doing this we can hardly doubt, but the way he did it cannot be surpassed as a demonstration of his infinite love for us.
The Son of God became man. The Creator became as one of his creatures. The master took on the form of his slave. Only supreme love and benevolence could invent such a humiliation for himself. Add to this, the sufferings, the insults, the hatreds, which culminated in the humiliating and most painful of deaths on the cross, which the sins and the ingratitude of those he had come to raise up brought on him during his earthly life among us, and we have some idea of the debt we owe the God of love.
We can never repay it, but God will accept the little gratitude we can render him. From the bottom of our hearts, let us all thank our Father in heaven, this Christmas, for sending us his Son, so that we could have God himself as our Father. And let our heartfelt thanks to God overflow into acts of love for our neighbor, for it’s only thus that we can really prove to God that we love him. This is “the obedience of faith,” the putting of the “Gospel of God” into practice, which St. Paul demands.
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.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 333 From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings the firstborn into the world, he says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”1 Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!”2 They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been.3 Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.4 They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.5
CCC 430 Jesus means in Hebrew: “God saves.” At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission.6 Since God alone can forgive sins, it is God who, in Jesus his eternal Son made man, “will save his people from their sins”.7 in Jesus, God recapitulates all of his history of salvation on behalf of men.
CCC 437 To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”8 From the beginning he was “the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world”, conceived as “holy” in Mary’s virginal womb.9 God called Joseph to “take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, so that Jesus, “who is called Christ”, should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the messianic lineage of David.10
CCC 486 The Father’s only Son, conceived as man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is “Christ”, that is to say, anointed by the Holy Spirit, from the beginning of his human existence, though the manifestation of this fact takes place only progressively: to the shepherds, to the magi, to John the Baptist, to the disciples.11 Thus the whole life of Jesus Christ will make manifest “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”12
CCC 497 The Gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility:13 “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, said the angel to Joseph about Mary his fiancee.14 The Church sees here the fulfillment of the divine promise given through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”15
CCC 1507 The risen Lord renews this mission (“In my name. .. they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”16) and confirms it through the signs that the Church performs by invoking his name.17 These signs demonstrate in a special way that Jesus is truly “God who saves.”18
CCC 1846 The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners.19 The angel announced to Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”20 The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”21
CCC 2666 But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity The Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: “Jesus,” “YHWH saves.”22 The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.23
CCC 2812 Finally, in Jesus the name of the Holy God is revealed and given to us, in the flesh, as Savior, revealed by what he is, by his word, and by his sacrifice.24 This is the heart of his priestly prayer: “Holy Father. .. for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.”25 Because he “sanctifies” his own name, Jesus reveals to us the name of the Father.26 At the end of Christ’s Passover, the Father gives him the name that is above all names: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”27
1 Heb 1:6.
2 Lk 2:14.
3 Cf. Mt 1:20; 2:13,19; 4:11; 26:53; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43; 2 Macc 10:29-30; 11:8.
4 Cf. Lk 2:8-14; Mk 16:5-7.
5 Cf. Acts 1:10-11; Mt 13:41; 24:31; Lk 12:8-9. The angels in the life of the Church
6 Cf. Lk 1:31.
7 Mt 1:21; cf. 2:7.
8 Lk 2:11.
9 Jn 10:36; cf. Lk 1:35.
10 Mt 1:20; cf. 1:16; Rom 1:1; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16.
11 Cf. Mt 1:20; 2:1-12; Lk 1:35; 2:8-20; Jn 1:3 1-34; 2:11.
12 Acts 10:38.
13 Mt 1 18-25; Lk 1:26-38.
14 Mt 1:20.
15 Is 7:14 (LXX), quoted in Mt 1:23 (Greek).
16 Mk 16:17-18.
17 Cf. Acts 9:34; 14:3.
18 Cf. Mt 1:21; Acts 4:12.
19 Cf. Lk 15.
20 Mt 1:21.
21 Mt 26:28.
22 Cf. Ex 3:14; 33: 19-23; Mt 1:21.
23 Rom 10:13; Acts 2:21; 3:15-16; Gal 2:20.
24 Cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31, Jn 8:28; 17:8; 17:17-19.
25 Jn 17:11, 19.
26 Cf. Ezek 20:39; 36:20-21; Jn 17:6.
27 Phil 2:9-11.
“How unsearchable are the judgments of God and how inscrutable his ways!” as St. Paul says to the Romans (11: 33). If God had preserved the kingdom of Judah (which he could so easily have done), and if the Messiah, the son of David, were to be born in the royal palace in Jerusalem, it would be natural and we would almost say, more fitting the dignity of the Messiah. Instead. God allowed the kingly line, and the throne of Judah, to disappear, and he chose a humble carpenter of Nazareth, a true descendant of David but a lowly one, to be the foster-father of his divine Son, when he took human nature and came on earth to “dwell among us.” But God’s ways are not our ways. It is not by their social standing, nor by their bank-accounts, that God values men. Virtue is the scale he uses when weighing men. In God’s eyes, no king sat on the throne of Judah, not even David himself, who was more acceptable to God as foster-father for his Son, than the carpenter of Nazareth.
This is the last Sunday of our preparation for Christmas, the anniversary of Christ’s birth. Like Joseph, we can all feel unworthy of the honor of welcoming him into our hearts and our homes. We are indeed unworthy, not because we have little of this world’s goods, but because we have so little humility, so little charity, so little faith and trust in God’s goodness. Let us try to imitate Joseph and Mary, the humblest of the humble, the kindliest of the kindly, and the greatest-ever believers in God’s goodness and mercy. We can never hope to equal them, but we can follow them humbly, from afar.
The feast of Christmas should draw the hearts of every child of God towards the furnace of divine love. In the manger, the infinite love of God for us miserable sinners is dramatically and forcefully portrayed before our eyes. In that helpless Baby, represented by a statue, we know that the person, and the power, of the omnipotent Creator and sustainer of the universe lie hidden “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” for us. He became a creature, like ourselves, so that he would make us sharers in his divine nature. He came on earth to bring us to heaven. He hid his divine nature so that he could cover us with it.
“Unsearchable indeed are the judgments of God, and inscrutable his ways.” But though we are unworthy of his infinite love, it nevertheless stands out as clear as the noonday sun in the Incarnation. We realize that we can never make ourselves worthy of this infinite love, but let us imitate Joseph and accept the honor which God is giving us, as we trust that he will continue to make us daily less unworthy.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission from Franciscan Press.
The Method of the Incarnation
The Incarnation of the Word means that God does not merely want to come to the spirit of man, through the Spirit, but that he is seeking him through and in the material world, that he also in fact wants to encounter him as a social and historical being. God wants to come to men through men. God has approached men in such a way that through him, and on account of him, they can find their way to one another. Thus the Incarnation includes the communal and historical aspects of faith. Taking the way of the body means that the time, as a reality, and the social nature of man become features of man’s relationship with God, features that are in turn based upon God’s existing relationship with man. God’s action brings into being “the People of God,” and “the People of God,” on the basis of Christ, become “the body of Christ”… The ultimate goal for us all is that of becoming happy. Yet happiness exists only in company with each other, and we can keep company only in the infinity of love. There is happiness only in the removal of barriers of the self moving into divinity, in becoming divine.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death,
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.
Let us pray.
O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
A special Advent gift for you. Arvo Part – Te Deum