A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

How much do we know about Joseph, the foster father of Jesus?  Actually, not much.  But we can learn something of what he has to confront  in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 1:18-24)   when  he is well aware of the fact he will be the husband of Mary.

The first challenge comes when he suddenly realizes that his fiancee is pregnant and he is certain that he is not the father.  What to do?  According to Jewish law he has two options.  He can publicly disclaim her and have her stoned.  Or he can privately divorce her.  The Gospel assures us that Joseph is a righteous man, and he wants to protect Mary.  So he decides to divorce her privately.  The pain of presumed betrayal must have affected him severely.  No doubt he was losing much sleep thinking about his situation.

Finally, he fell asleep and had a dream, which was in reality a “dream revelation.”   Revelation in dreams was not unusual in the Bible.  The revelation told Joseph that he was to take Mary into his home (which meant marrying her.)  Her pregnancy was due to the power of the Holy Spirit (“Spirit” actually meaning “the creative power of God”).

Joseph was also told that the child’s name would be “Jesus” which comes from the Hebrew word which means “savior.”   It seems that this righteous man, through a dream, learned that  God was responsible for Mary’s preganancy, and the child was to be a “savior.”

It is important to know that each of the four Gospels was written to a specific group at a specific time. This is why we note “The Gospel according to Matthew…Mark…Luke…  John.”   Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish, which is why we see plenty of Old Testament references.  In this biblical reading, Matthew quotes Isaiah (7:14)  “… Look, the young woman is with child and will bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  The name “Immanuel” in Hebrew means “God with us.”  Matthew saw the presence of God with his people an ongoing process.

What can we learn from the above biblical reading?  First of all, divine revelation can come in many ways.  It came to Joseph in a dream.  The dream is a subtle way to realize God’s presence.  How many “subtle” ways are there for us where we can recognize the presence of God?  Above all, we need an open heart to be open the the workings of divine subtlety.

Second, we can also learn that names have meaning (for example “Jesus” and “Immanuel” above).  What does the name  “Christian” mean for me?  Awareness of divine intervention and the significance of names, if taken seriously, can be our gifts to Jesus for Christmas.

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