In a few days time we will celebrate the day our Saviour was born; that decisive and unrepeatable event when heaven came to earth. As some of the Fathers of the Church say, heaven was wedded to earth.
Nine months ago we celebrated the Annunciation of the Lord, when the Blessed Virgin Mary gave her ‘yes’, her ‘fiat’, her ‘let it be done to me according to your word’. And with that God the Son was conceived within her virginal womb.
That event can be likened to the marriage proposal by God to humanity. Mary stood in place of all of us and said ‘yes’. And in that ‘yes’ the whole plan of God’s salvation began to unfold.
Today I would like to reflect upon two key people, not only of the Christmas event, but also of the whole salvation history. They are Mary and Joseph.
In the beginning…
You will be familiar with the words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
We do have a human tendency to always be moving forwards and can even resist looking backwards. Understanding of our faith requires both: looking to the beginning and looking to our eternal destiny.
In the accounts of Genesis when God created man the Hebrew word used is zachar. When God creates woman the Hebrew word is nequevah.
Both words mean ‘man’ and ‘woman’ respectively. But they also have enlightening homonyms. The same word zachar also means ‘to remember’ while nequevah also means ‘to open’.
This gives us a fascinating theological insight into the very quality of masculinity and femininity. A man is meant to be one who remembers. A woman is meant to be one who is open.
When we understand theologically why God created man and woman, these meanings are powerful. And I suggest we see them lived and exemplified in Joseph and Mary.
Man and Woman in the New Covenant
When Eve and Adam sinned, in the paradise of the garden, Adam forgot who he was and who God was. Eve closed to God and listened to Satan.
In the New Covenant established in Christ, and His sacrifice on the Cross, Joseph remembered and Mary opened herself, and the Saviour was born.
What did Joseph remember? He remembered the content and the divine imperatives of his dreams. He took Mary as his wife. He also bundled Jesus and Mary together and went into exile in Egypt. He did what God asked. In this he remembered the thousands upon thousands of years of the covenant beginning with Abraham. He remembered the promises made to Abraham and his descendants. He remembered the prophets and the history of the Chosen people. It could be said he acted as a real man and in doing this, while not biologically a father, he fathered into existence the spiritual heritage of the new and eternal covenant
How was Mary open? While this is more an internal action and we cannot know its fullness, what can be said is that Mary was so open to God in her sinless feminine nature that she conceived eternal life in her womb. It was that divine and human child, to whom she gave birth, who was to save the world from sin and death and reverse the forgetting and closure of the Garden.
St Joseph is the patron and guardian of the Church. The Virgin Mary is the mother of the Church.
This exemplary man and this perfect woman, not only protect the Church but they show us who the Church is meant to be. And they do this together in their virginal marriage. And in this they show us the unique value of marriage for the Church as well.
Joseph’s remembering and Mary’s openness is the call and mission of the Church, and of each of its members. The Church, to be true to herself, must always remember what her Lord and Saviour has done and she must always be open to His authority and power and to the sanctifying effects of His Holy Spirit.
The Church must be both Joseph and Mary.
When does the Church do this most clearly? At the Eucharist!! At the Eucharist.
At every Mass there is holy remembering and there must be submissive openness. This is not just a corporate action but must be the action of every member of the Church present.
Without remembering and without openness the Church is not a fruitful mother but she is sterile. Without remembering and without openness each member of the Church stagnates spiritually and the spiritual life may begin to die.
In these last days of Advent, let us turn to Our Lady and St Joseph and ask them to stir up in us the memory we must have and the openness we need so that we may welcome Him, who on earth was their Son, and one day be blessed with the vision of His face in heaven.