From Genesis to the Gospel of Matthew
If God’s creation of woman from man as a helpmate, so that the two live as one, in Genesis 2:24 were not enough to show how basic marriage is to the order of creation, we have this Sunday’s Gospel as confirmation. It will be the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year A, when we hear Matthew’s nativity story told from Joseph’s point of view.
He is betrothed to Mary, and assumes she will be his wife according to Jewish law, in which a woman must be a virgin to be accepted as bride by her husband. If she were found to have been involved with another man previously, the husband can reject her, and she could even be stoned. But Joseph has every reason to believe his betrothed to be acceptable under the Law.
Of course, he does not see her for several months, as she stays with her cousin Elizabeth for the last months of her pregnancy with John. When she returns home, the evidence of the baby Jesus she carries must be evident. She tells him the story of what happened, but how can Joseph believe such a thing? What will people think?
God could have come to live among humans in a less down-to-earth way. Like Hillel, the great Jewish teacher of the Sanhedrin, he could have come from a far country, his origins mysterious. But no, God chooses to become incarnate in a woman only just betrothed, a situation much more fraught with peril than that of an unwed mother today, as I have said above.
Joseph is an upstanding man, wanting to obey the Law, but also loving and merciful. He is ready to divorce Mary quietly, which would have left our nativity scenes with a single mother, tending her infant, surrounded by animals. Or maybe by female family members? God intervenes, sending an angel to Jospeh in a dream to assure him he can take Mary as his wife.
The Holy Family Experiences Many Challenges
Lest there be any mistake about it, God insists on his Son being born into a family, despite the challenges that presents. Matthew 1 recounts just one of those challenges, but we know that others will soon follow. God does not provide an easy beginning for his own Son, and does not privilege the Mary and Joseph with stress-free parenting. At a time when life was already difficult for Jewish families, theirs was even more so.
In our crèches we see the model of what God chose for his own Son. Surely this is also the model he sets for us in our communities. He shows us an example that reflects the very issues families encounter in our day, telling us, as always, I know what you may be going through. My family had the same struggles.
The Feast of the Holy Family falls on Monday, December 26th
This year the feast of the Holy Family falls on a weekday, so many of us will not celebrate it at mass. But it comes every year as a kind of exclamation point, an underlining of what we have just experienced at Christmas a few days before: God comes to earth as the child of a family. This is not an afterthought; it’s the main point.