“ ’Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’ “ (Matthew 1:23) We hear these words in the Gospel account today of St. Joseph being visited in his sleep by the angel. The child in Mary’s womb is the one about whom Isaiah prophesied, the one whom the people of Israel had longed for for centuries. Now, He is finally coming!
But even before His birth in Bethlehem in Christmas, Emmanuel, God-with-us, the long-awaited Messiah was with Mary and Joseph in an intimate way. For Mary, the conception of Jesus in her womb meant that God was with her in a way as He grew in her very womb. Because of his proximity to Mary, Joseph would have also had a unique experience of God already being with him. Though not visible yet, He was truly present, just as any child is in the womb of their mothers. From the first moment of conception, human life is there, a fact I have no doubt Mary and Joseph appreciated.
Perhaps I have shared this image with you in a homily or some other way in the past couple of years, but in these final days of Advent, I like to picture Mary and Joseph as they journey together toward Bethlehem. The journey by foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem likely took a few days. I can picture them settling in for the night after a long day’s journey. Since they are not at home, Jospeh is likely very attentive to their surroundings, possibly even keeping watch while his pregnant wife sleeps. Just imagine Joseph, watching Mary as she slept, seeing her, but also knowing that Emmanuel was there with them, hidden in her womb. You could say that Joseph was probably one of the first in the history of the Church to pray in adoration in the presence of Jesus Christ – body, blood, soul, and divinity, in form slightly different from the Eucharist, of course, but in the same reality of His being truly and really present. What peace there must have been in his heart as he looked lovingly on his wife with his physical eyes, and as he looked lovingly on His Savior with his eyes of faith.
In this final week of Advent, I invite you to pray with this image of Joseph gazing upon Mary, and adoring Jesus even though He cannot yet see Him face to face. And what better place to do this than in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, when exposed for Eucharistic Adoration, or when He rests in the tabernacle. We look upon Him, not yet being able to see Him face to face, but believing that He is truly present. Only when we get to Heaven will we have the privilege of seeing Him in His glory, but until that time, seeing Him as He remains hidden behind the form of bread and wine (but truly present) in the Eucharist, and then receiving Him in Holy Communion, that is enough for us. For He is Emmanuel, God with us! Let us rejoice in this beautiful gift, and may His presence among as we approach Christmas grant us that same peace that Mary and Joseph knew as they prepared for His birth.