"The virgin shall conceive and bear a son." [Mt. 1:23] Today, celebrating the last Sunday of Advent prior to the Feast of Christmas Day, to some extent, we can associate with the greatest joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary who awaited the coming of Baby Jesus into the world. In six days, we will commemorate the birth of her beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus, God incarnated. For some, the celebration of the incarnation shall begin on Christmas Eve through their participation at the Midnight Mass.
During today's First Reading, [Is. 7:10-14] the Lord God spoke through the great prophet Isaiah. The Lord said to Ahaz, the son of Jotham who succeeded the eleventh king of Israel around 735 B.C., "Ask for a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as far down as Hell or as far up as Heaven." [Is. 7:10-1] Ahaz answered, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test." [Is. 7:12]
Why did Ahaz reject God's offer to provide a sign when past signs related to Divine intervention in the history of mankind? To answer that question, it is necessary to understand a bit of the history that was taking place during those days.
The political situation in those days was that king Rezin of Aram and king Pekah of Israel (Ephraim) had joined together to invade Jerusalem. They were threatening to also invade Judah unless Ahaz joined them. Ahaz's advisers urged him to join Jerusalem against Rezin and Pekah. But Isaiah foresaw disaster in that path. Today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah is the first of five Chapters in which Isaiah attempts to discourage Ahaz from going against Rezin and Pekah while providing him with the Lord's God's encouragement in the present situation.
So why did Ahaz reject God's offer to provide a sign? Most likely it is because Ahaz did not want Isaiah's advice. Although Ahaz would not ask for a sign, God still gave him one. Over 700 years before the event, Isaiah prophesied that through the House of David, a young woman would be with Child and she shall bear a Son, naming Him Immanuel. [Is. 7:13-4]
Did you know that the passages from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 have been the center of debates between theologians for centuries? Why? Because in the Old Testament, the inspired Word of God refers to a "young woman." In the New Testament, while it is supposed to be a quote of the first passage, the "young woman" has been replaced with the word "virgin." Therefore, the question is, "Was the virginity of Mary prophesied 700 years before the event?"
When reviewing Isaiah's inspired writings, he does not use the word "virgin." Rather, he uses a word that means a "young woman" of marriageable age, without reference if she would be a virgin or not. There are two possible explanations as to why a change of words may have occurred.
In the first instance, Saint Matthew may have changed the words "young woman" to "virgin" to reveal to the world that the mother of Jesus had experienced a virgin birth.
In the second instance, Saint Matthew may have used an Hebrew translation of the Old Testament that implied a "virgin" versus a "young woman." If this is the case, the hand of the Holy Spirit was at work in this situation. Sometime between the days of Isaiah and the day of the birth of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit may have guided those who copied the Scriptures from generation to generation and the translators to change the words "young woman" to "virgin" in order to reflect more accurately the manifestation of the power of God that was about to take place through the incarnation.
No matter what the circumstances, the tradition of the Holy Catholic Church has always taught the belief that Mary experienced a virgin birth and that the faithful have joyfully embraced that belief.
Today's Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans [Rom. 1:1-7] affirmed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, descended from king David [Rom. 1:3] as prophesied through Isaiah. This affirmation is also found in Matthew 1:1 and 2 Timothy 2:8. Furthermore, Our Lord Jesus was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead. [Rom. 1:4]
Through Christ the first disciples received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of the Most Holy Name Jesus. [Rom. 1:5] What does it mean to "bring about the obedience of faith?" That answer is found in the Letter of Paul to the Romans.
"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' But not all have obeyed the goodness; for Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our message?' So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the Word of Christ." [Rom. 10:14-7] Faith begins by "hearing" the Word of God, this followed by a personal commitment to obey the calling of our Lord in submission.
This calling of obedience of faith is a calling to the entire human race. It is a calling to each and everyone of us to feed upon the Word of God for our spiritual growth so that we may go forward to teach and defend the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus.
Today's Reading from the Gospel of Matthew [Mt. 1:18-24] provides us with the circumstances surrounding the virgin birth of Mary. When Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. [Mt. 1:18] When reference is made to Mary being engaged to Joseph, it means that the marriage contract had been drawn up between Joseph, or his parents, and the parents of Mary. According to the Jewish custom, the marriage did not take place until such time as the groom had taken the bride into his house. When doing so, this was referred to having "come together" or "live together."
Had Joseph departed from Mary, this would not have been viewed as a "divorce" in the full sense of the word. While Mary and Joseph were engaged, they had not "come together" as of yet. Equally, pre-marital unchastity was not viewed as "adultery" in the full sense because Mary and Joseph had not "come together" as of yet. As such, Joseph could have quietly retracted the marriage agreement to dismiss Mary by signing a declaration in the presence of witnesses without having to state the reasons in public.
While Joseph was preoccupied with the pregnancy of Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. As we all heard, the angel of the Lord told Joseph, the son of David, not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for the child conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. [Mt. 1:20] These words indirectly support that the birth of Jesus was a virgin birth.
The angel of the Lord told Joseph that the Son of Mary should be called Jesus because He will save His people. When studying the origin and development of the name Jesus, it is learned that it means "Yahweh is salvation." Therefore it was being revealed that while Jesus would be an agent of salvation for God's people, this would be salvation from their sins and not from worldly enemies or the dangers associated with nature.
All of this took place to fulfill the prophecy that had been spoken through the great prophet Isaiah. "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." [Mt. 1:23]
"When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife." [Mt. 1:24] How beautiful are the virtues of obedience and trust in the Lord God! Plentiful are the graces of the Lord upon those who submit themselves to the Divine progressive plan for humanity.
The Lord has come, the Lord is here, and the Lord is coming again. In two days, we will commemorate His coming on earth in human flesh. This moment of worship, a great Feast that unites Heaven and earth, will be one of joy and praise for all the faithful who will gather around the spiritual table of the Lord to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Now is the last chance to prepare ourselves for this great moment. Now is the last chance to repent of our sins with a sincerity of heart and to receive the Sacrament of Confession.
As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us remember those who have not yet prepared themselves for the coming of the Lord. Let us ask the Spirit of Jesus to implant within their hearts the urgency of being and remaining in a state of grace.