Sunday, December 25, 2016

Late Post: 4th Sunday of Advent: The Virgin Birth


It would be so easy to conclude that the 4th Sunday of Advent is about St. Joseph. After all, he seems to be the protagonist of the Gospel Reading today. However, looking closely at the readings, we realize that the Word of God is revealing to us something more than St. Joseph’s righteousness and prudence. If there was any idea that gets to be repeated again and again, it would be that of the Virgin Birth of the Lord Jesus. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading tells us: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The story of St. Joseph’s interior struggle simply led to this point: Mary is a virgin and he had nothing to do with her pregnancy. The angel assured him that Mary’s pregnancy was not the fruit of fornication. Rather, “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you shall name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” In fact, the reading was cut short by one sentence that should have said: “Joseph knew her not (meaning, he did not have marital relations with her) till she brought forth her first-born son, and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:25)

The insistence on the virginity of Mary is so obvious because it was repeated 4 times! Why this insistence? Well, it is because Mary’s simultaneous virginity and maternity is so difficult to accept. We know full well how nature works: virginity ends where maternity begins. A woman loses her virginity in order to become a mother. A virgin cannot be mother at the same time because reproduction demands marital relations. A woman loses her virginity the moment she engages in marital intercourse. And so, the Word of God repeats again and again: Mary is the virgin who conceived and bore a son. She did not lose her virginity to her maternity because she conceived not through marital relations but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Why does the Mother of the Messiah have to be a virgin? Why this insistence on the virginity of Mary? Why the virgin birth? The Catechism tells us why. “Mary’s virginity manifests God’s absolute initiative in the Incarnation.” Jesus is truly Son of God. Jesus was conceived “by the Holy Spirit without human seed.” “Jesus has only God as Father…He is naturally Son of the Father in his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity but properly Son of the Father in both natures.” (CCC, 503)
“Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s womb because he is the New Adam, who inaugurates the new creation.” (CCC, 504) The first Adam was not born of any marital relations. And so the New Adam was not born also of any marital relations.

“By his virginal conception, Jesus, the new Adam, ushers in the new birth of children adopted in the Holy Spirit through faith.” (CCC, 505) “To those who did accept him (Jesus), he gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice, nor by a man’s decision, but of God.” (John 1: 12-13)

And we are the children born of the waters of Baptism that were fructified by the Holy Spirit. We are the new creation, children adopted in the Holy Spirit. As Jesus is the Son of the Virgin Mary, we are the sons and daughters of the virgin Church. We are “called to belong to Jesus Christ…(we are) the beloved of God, called to be holy.”
And so we rejoice for having been called to belong to Jesus. This grace cannot be attributed to anyone else but to God alone. The Messiah born of the Virgin is the evidence that salvation belongs to God and comes only from God. Only he can save his people from their sins.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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