by Father Mike Stubbs
Often a musical play will close with a reprise of a signature song. The audience wants to hear that standout tune one more time before it leaves the theater.
In a sense, that is what will happen with the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Throughout this church year, which we are just now beginning, Sundays’ Gospel reading for the most part will come from that Gospel. This Sunday is no exception. We will hear Mt 1: 18-24.
This reading sets the stage for Matthew’s entire Gospel by announcing an important theme: God’s presence with us through Jesus Christ. This scene takes place before Jesus’ birth and before the final step of Mary’s marriage to Joseph, when she would enter into his house. Joseph has learned of Mary’s pregnancy and is understandably alarmed by it. He is on the verge of divorcing her. To allay his fears, an angel reveals to Joseph in a dream that the child to be born to Mary has been conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. He will be called “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
This announcement comes at the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. And then, at its end, we hear that theme repeated. Jesus assures his disciples, right before he ascends into heaven, that he will remain with them “always, until the end of the age!” (Mt 28:20).
This promise anticipates what we celebrate at Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation. Even though it began with a past event — the birth of Jesus — it continues on as a present reality. We celebrate God’s presence with us through Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s presence with the people of Israel appears as an important theme. When Moses worries about going before Pharaoh, God tells him: “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). As the people of Israel travel through the desert, a column of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night precedes them, to remind them of God’s continual presence. When King Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem, it is recognized as God’s dwelling place on earth. Once again, it is a sign of God’s presence.
All these point to, and anticipate, God’s presence with us through Jesus Christ. Because of his birth, that is something that we can celebrate continually.
Does that mean that Christmas lasts all year long? In a sense, yes, because Jesus is the gift that never stops giving.