“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Looking at the American landscape as the year draws to a close, you may wonder how we got here. The intense divisions, the harsh rhetoric, and the damaged relationships brought about by politics, racial tensions, and the news media can seem to be all too much. We made it through the Thanksgiving holiday, yet some of us apparently needed to call a special hotline set up to assist in the maneuvering through dinner conversations. Now with Advent quickly drawing to an end, the challenge will be before many of us whether or not we will greet the newborn King with love and reconciliation or something much less befitting a Savior. But if we take time to reflect on the message of this Fourth Sunday of Advent, perhaps we will find a pathway to peace.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us Joseph was afraid of taking Mary into his home since she was pregnant and they had not had relations. His plan was to divorce her quietly and move on. But an angel explained to him that Mary was carrying no ordinary child. She was going to give birth to a child conceived through the Spirit of God and he was to be named Jesus.
In Hebrew, the name “Jesus” means “God saves.” In Hebrew theology, since only God can forgive sins, and since all sin is an affront to God, only God can save. In the naming of Mary’s child, the message is being sent that he is the Incarnation, the God-Man. The angel says this naming is important since Jesus will save his people from their sins. Who are his people?
The Gospel accounts explain that Jesus is not just the Messiah the Hebrews have awaited; He is also the Savior of all. God became man for all human beings. And humanity did not choose him, but he chose all humanity.
If we take the time to understand the implications of this, maybe it can help us see others in a different light. Who did Jesus come for over two thousand years ago? He came for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He came for Americans and Russians. He came for those who have been hurt by crime. But he also came for those who committed those crimes. Sometimes we disregard too quickly the reality that Jesus was born to be the Savior of the entire world, not just those people with whom we agree or have the same vision of the world.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, let’s see if we can see others through God’s eyes instead of our own. But to do that, we must not fear bringing Jesus and his Mother into our home. Truly welcoming them means a profound shift in our view of those around us, those in leadership, and those whom we do not always understand. That can actually be scary and challenging. This does not mean healthy debate or disagreements should be washed away. But how can we hate or despise someone that Jesus came to save? Truly, our adversary is our brother or sister.
Also, let us pray for our country. Let us pray for healing and reconciliation. We must not allow the birth of Jesus to become less meaningful in our lives by our unloving actions and words toward each other. St. John Paul II loved his homeland of Poland. He prayed for his country his entire life, especially when it is was under Communist rule. His words from a 1975 Christmas homily sounds like an important sentiment for us all in the US today:
May this Christmas that we are celebrating increase the birth and presence of God in your souls and in all souls, in the soul of the whole nation, which prays to the infant Jesus: “Raise your little hand, O Holy Child, and bless our beloved homeland.”
Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS
O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
—Prayer to Mary Immaculate, Patroness of Our Country. Copyright © 2012, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.