Sunday Reflection with Father Terry Tastard - 19 December 2010

The message that rings through the scriptures this weekend is Emmanuel, ‘God-with-us’.  I wonder what it means to say ‘God is with us?’  Does it mean that God blesses everything that we do?  Surely not, because there must be times when our human ways are contrary to the will of God.  No, to speak of God being with us is to speak of a constant source of love, forgiveness and renewal.  There is more:  surely when we say ‘God-with-us’ we are accepting that from time to time God will challenge us.  As it is sometimes said, God loves us too much to leave us as we are.  If God is with us then we must expect that there will be a challenge to our complacency, a rebuke to our violence, an overturning of our self-justification.

Yet, we can be sure of this, that what God does always proceeds out of love.  In our first reading (Isa. 7.10-14) humankind tries the patience of God.  Yet the result is a promise that through a maiden there will be a sign for all ages, in the child she will bring into the world.  The child will be Emmanuel, God-with-us.  God’s response to human weakness is a radical act of love.  When the Christians looked back and read this prophecy they naturally saw it as a reference to the coming of Christ, the Messiah.  In him, God would leap across time and space to be among us.  It would be a reconciliation of God and humankind for all ages to come.

There is one intriguing difference between the original passage in Isaiah and the way that Matthew cites it.  In the original passage, we are told that it is the maiden who will call her son Emmanuel.  However, in the gospel we hear that ‘they will call him Emmanuel’.  They.  It means you and me.  It refers to everyone who has the faith to affirm that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. This is not a private revelation, meant for a few only.  It is something that will involve the whole world, as untold numbers come to see in Christ the human face of God.

You and I are privileged to be among those people who look at Christ and see God in him reaching out to us.  When the gospel says they will call him Emmanuel, we are part of that group.  Hold fast to this, because it means that the fulfilment of the prophecy is not a past event but a present reality.  Wherever people turn to Christ and find God in him and through him, then the prophecy is fulfilled once more.  We believe that ‘God is with us’.  To say this is not to believe that God blesses every short-sighted human action or indulges us.  Rather, it says that there is a deep tide in history, in which God constantly reaches out to every human being who turns to him.  It says that we can never forfeit the love of God, for God is with us.

God comes to each and every human being.  No matter how humble our place in life, we can be like St Joseph.  He took Mary and the child she was bearing into his own home.  May this be true of us also this coming Christmas:  may we also, like Joseph, have the wonderful mysterious joy of taking Jesus and Mary to our own home.

 Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His latest book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see:

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