December 22, 2013 - 4th Sunday of Advent - Year A
The Spirit of Christmas
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
A Mysterious Pregnancy
Here we are again. Another Season of Christmas is just a few days away and like last year the Christmas wars continue this year. Somewhere, someone doesn't think the signs and symbols of Christmas should go public. Others dismiss Christmas and the Holiday Spirit with a flat but firm, "Bah! Humbug!," meaning it's all a hoax. Still others, through no fault of their own, find the jubilation and warmth of the season overwhelming; it costs too much, and is too painful, and too burdensome, and for many, it is too depressing. It's for these for whom Christmas is so overwhelming we want to especially pray for so that they may be blessed with the true Gift and Spirit of Christmas to their everlasting happiness and joy.
The Christmas story is a story worth telling again and gain. Any good story needs to told over and over. And Christmas is such a story. It's a story not everyone knows and we may need to hear it again for the first time. We need to listen one more time to the enduring Story and Mystery of Christmas which inspires the now familiar phrase 'the Reason for the Season'. And because it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas we hear the inspiring story retold in today's Gospel explaining that Mary, a young betrothed virgin, is pregnant.
It happened like this. The house Joseph was building for his bride was nearly done and soon he would bring Mary to her new home. He always knew Mary to be prayerful and chaste. However, she came to Joseph one afternoon with urgent news. The news she broke to him was painful - painful because her pregnancy meant she belonged to someone else and according to Mary that Someone else was the Holy Spirit. Not willing to dismiss Mary as a farce or even worse as an infidel Joseph contemplates Mary's relationship with himself differently than he ever has before. He thinks about the many promises of the Law and the Prophets about a Savior and Redeemer and concludes that Mary is the spouse of Another for the salvation of the world. Since betrothal in his culture meant that one is married, only a quiet divorce could nullify his relationship with Mary and keep her safe. This he concluded would be his way to honor God and Mary's special destiny as she prepared to bring into the world from her blood and wrapped in her flesh the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Do Not Fear the Mystery
Following his evening prayers, which was his custom, Joseph went to sleep with his prayerfully laid out plans firm in his heart. A just and godly man, Joseph pondered about the great mystery of God growing in Mary's womb just before the shutters on his eyes closed. Not once in his pondering did he imagine that he would have anything else to do with Mary or with the promise of salvation now firmly planted in her womb.
But as his eyes shut, an angel of the Lord visited his heart in a dream. Like another dreamer of his name's sake in Israel's history, this dream would also prove to be life changing.
"Joseph, son of David!," the angel said almost loud enough to awake him.
And then with a powerful whisper the angel continued, "Stop being afraid of God and of being Mary's husband and of what lies in her womb! Just as Mary told you, that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus. Name him JESUS! For He will save his people from their sins."
Embracing the Mystery
When Joseph woke up he did so with a new and invigorating desire to do what the angel had told him to do. After Mary, he is the first to encounter the Spirit of the first Christmas; the first of 2,000 Christmases to date. So washing his face and willing to face a future with faith and fidelity to all that God asked of him, Joseph went to Mary and told her all that the night had revealed to him. And with Mary he embraced the Mystery of the Spirit-Story that they would live out together.
Every Christmas we meet someone who says something about not being in the Christmas Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit of Christmas is something other than what we might think it is. Because it's not necessarily a particular feeling or a favorite holiday cappuccino or even a pungent aroma of homemade apple pie wafting through the house. Those things are fun and special in their own way, but they do not give us the true Spirt of Christmas. We are closer to the true Spirit of Christmas as we embrace the Mystery like Mary and Joseph did. The great and ever inspiring Mystery of Emmanuel, which means God with us!
Spirit of Christmas descend upon us and tell to our hearts again the great story of God's Love veiled in flesh, even Jesus, our Emmanuel. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com