in the psalms of David,
in the words of the prophets,
in the dream of Joseph
your promise is spoken.
At last, in the womb of the Virgin Mary
your Word takes flesh.
Teach us to welcome Jesus, the promised Emmanuel,
and to preach the good news of his coming,
that every age may know him
as the source of redemption and grace.
Grant this through him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near:
your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”
Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
The Lord's is the earth and its fullness,
the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
on the waters he made it firm. (R./)
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things. (R./)
He shall receive blessings from the Lord
and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,
seek the face of the God of Jacob. (R./)
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
King Ahaz could be honoured as the patron of skeptics. He simply would not rely on God to help him through the greatest crisis in his life. In the crisis facing his kingdom, he preferred to trust in his soldiers and his military plans. Are we much the same? Do we trust only the range of our own power and resources, and turn to the true God only as an extra insurance, a vague source of possible help in moments of crisis? But such faith is weak and inadequate. A fuller kind of faith would see us relying on God's invisible, helping presence, not just in those moments when human support fails us. Real faith accepts the reality of God in every moment of life. It sees God as a dimension of all our experience, literally, the Emmanu-El, God-with-us.
The promise that God is with us was not for Isaiah's time only, it is for our own. Even now the sign of that continuing presence is a young woman and her child, the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus. For Joseph the unexpected pregnancy of Mary was not a sign to confirm his trust either in her or God, it was a contradictory sign. In the hours of his darkness he found the enlightening Spirit of God, the Spirit who teaches us not to judge by what our eyes see or by what our ears hear (cf. Is 11:3.) This gospel shows us that the signs God gives are not always the ones we would choose for ourselves. He gives signs for those who are willing to take on the darkness of doubt in openness and sincerity.
What can a name tell us about a particular person? Not much, usually. Names like Helen, Paula, Sharon or Jason are useful for distinguishing various members of a family, but they don't describe the people themselves. With some Biblical names it is different. For instance, Abraham meant "Father of a great people" (Gen. 17:5) and Moses meant "Rescued from the Waters" (Ex. 2:10.) Above all, our blessed Lord has names which are full of meaning. "Jesus" means "God saves," "Christ" means "God's Anointed Messiah" and the name "Emmanuel" in today's Gospel, means "God in our midst."
How important is Jesus for our religious belief? Be honest. Ask the question what is the heart of Christianity and what will people say? Something to do with loving your neighbour; keeping the law; going to church on Sunday? Will there be any mention of Jesus Christ, who is at the very centre of our faith. Ghandi once said, "If only you Christians took your Christ to heart.."
Jesus shares our lot, our life-experience and our troubles. At Christmas we will concentrate on the simplicity and poverty of Our Lord's birth: how human he was, born of a young woman, not in luxurious comfort, but in the discomfort of a stable. That shows him as one of us, the human side of "Emmanuel." This gospel however mentions the divine origin of Jesus. Although he has a human mother, he has not a human father, but was conceived in Mary by the power of God. This unique way of coming into life, with God as father, and the virgin Mary as mother, underlines who Jesus truly is: both God and man, one of ourselves and yet one with the eternal God.
If this seems mysterious to us, it must have been baffling for St Joseph. Close to Mary as he was, and finding her pregnant without any involvement by him, Joseph could only accept in faith what God's messenger told him, that the child was in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. With great patience and humility, Joseph accepted the part for which God had chosen him, as guardian and foster-father to our Lord and Saviour. This kind of faithful acceptance is asked from each of us, when Christ comes into our lives, as "God-with-us."
Introduction: Let us bring our prayers to the Lord, the King of Glory.
Prayer for the dead: For those who have gone before us in faith (especially N and N), that they may share in Christ's resurrection from the dead (quiet pause). Lord, hear us.
Conclusion: O God, yours is the earth and its fullness, bless your people by hearing the prayers we make, through Christ our Lord. Amen.