Jesus’ identity revealed

Rembrandt, Dream of Joseph, 1645, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

by Fr. Eamon Tobin

All three readings point to the identity of Jesus:

as the sign of God’s presence with his people (first reading),

as true God and true man, (second reading), and

as the Son of God who has come to save us (Gospel).


Song suggestions

Pause for a moment and listen to one of the following songs.

Opening prayer

Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory, and to open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming.

O Emmanuel, O God With Us (1:25)

The CatholicTV Network – Bishop Robert Reed reflects on and sings the O Antiphon for the evening of December 23.

A sign from God given to the king

Isaiah 7:10-14
Isaiah Prophesying the Adoration of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. This image indicates Isaiah prophesying the coming glory of Christ. Isaiah is seated next to a representation of a city. The city may be Bethlehem, the city of Christ’s birth, or it may represent Jerusalem, where the House of the Lord is established.

by Fr. Eamon Tobin

King Ahaz finds himself in a bad place. He is about to be attacked by neighboring armies. To defend his kingdom, he plans to enter into an alliance with pagan rulers. Isaiah, the local prophet, tells him that such an action shows distrust in God with whom his people have a covenant relationship.

Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask God for a sign so that God can show him that he is with him. Feigning humility, Ahaz says he will not tempt the Lord.

Even though Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign, Isaiah says that God will give a sign: “The virgin will conceive a child and give him the name Emmanuel (God-with-us).”The birth of the child is very important because it means that the Davidic dynasty will continue and not be wiped out by hostile neighbors.

While Isaiah is most likely referring to the soon-to-be -born son of Ahaz (Hezekiah), early Christians see the Isaian prophecy as pointing to Jesus. In biblical interpretations, this is called the “deeper or fuller meaning” of a text, i.e., a meaning intended by God but not clearly envisaged by the human author and which, after further research and careful study, comes to light as revelation.

The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel. — Is 7:14b (NAB)


Catholic Productions – God with us — Emmanuel — is the title given to Jesus that we celebrate as we approach Christmas. But in what way did Emmanuel come to us?

To learn more about this passage about Emmanuel — “God with us” — in Matthew 1, and the connection between it, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Old Testament reading for this Sunday’s Mass, subscribe today to The Mass Readings Explained.

Let the Lord enter; he is the King of Glory

Psalm 24:1-6
Night Sky Galaxy Milky (

by Fr. Eamon Tobin

This psalm is a hymn of praise to God, the Creator and Savior. There is a reference to cultic worthiness: only the person with a clean heart and upright conscience can participate in the worship of the Lord.

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain. — Ps 24:3-4 (NAB)


Courtesy of JessComTV

God’s saving grace

Romans 1:1-7
Detail of Saving grace to all humankind, Washington National Cathedral, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

by Fr. Eamon Tobin

As Paul begins his letter to the Romans, he reminds them that Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus is “descended from David according to the flesh, but established as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit” (Rom 1:3-4). Paul also reminds his readers of the ‘obedient faith’ or call to holiness to which all disciples of Jesus are summoned.

Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…called to be holy;— Rom 1:5-6, 7b (NAB)

Joseph: Jesus’ link to the house of David

Matthew 1:18-24
Dream of Saint Joseph by Corrado Giaquinto (1703-1766). An ethereal figure of the angel that appears to a slumbering Saint Joseph in order to calm any fears over the paternity of Jesus. (See video below)

by Fr. Eamon Tobin

In Matthew’s infancy narrative, Joseph—not Mary—receives the limelight. This is because Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience and he wants to show them that Jesus is a true descendant of Abraham and David. Joseph is Jesus’ link to the house of David. While not ignoring Jesus’ divine origin, Matthew wants to show that even though Jesus does not have a human father, he is the son of David. Jesus’ divinity emanates from his virginal conception by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew wishes to portray Joseph as a ‘righteous man,’ a law-abiding person who blends submission to the law with compassion for others. He tells us that Joseph in-tended to divorce Mary, as not to do so would be to tolerate evil in their midst (the assumption here is, of course, that Mary had committed fornication). By being willing to divorce Mary, Joseph shows that he loves God more than Mary whom he also loves with all his heart. But Joseph plans to divorce Mary “quietly” so as not to humiliate her. If Joseph had gone public, Mary could have been stoned to death for her presumed infidelity (see Deut 22:21). This shows that Joseph’s sense of justice is tempered with mercy.

Anton Raphael Mengs – The_Dream_of_St._Joseph (see second video below)

But God intervenes. An angel tells Joseph in a dream to take Mary into his home because the baby has been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph obeys.(He practices what the Catechism calls “obedient faith” (art 144). The neighbors may be shocked. After all, they do not know the circumstances of Jesus’ conception. Here again, Joseph shows himself to be a righteous man, obedient to God’s revelation regardless of what others might think.

By giving Jesus two names, Matthew reveals Jesus’ identity and mission. His name means “One who saves”and his mission is to bring salvation. Jesus is also called Emmanuel, i.e., “God is with us.” In Jesus, God is with us in the flesh. For Matthew, the birth of Jesus is the fruition of God’s promise through the ages to be with and to save his people.

In quoting the Isaian passage, Matthew is telling his audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. He comes from God and from Israel.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. — Mat 1:18 (NAB)


Recommended Reading:

Joseph by John Kavanaugh, SJ

An Inner Assurance by John Foley, SJ

Joseph’s Fidelity by Ron Rolheiser

A Poem to Sit With by J. Janda

This week’s questions

by Fr. Eamon Tobin

1. Turn to the person next to you and share what word/s or image/s in the readings caught your attention? Did they comfort or challenge you or touch you in some way?

2. In the first reading, Ahaz is in a difficult situation as he is accused of not trusting in God. Can you think of a time when you found it hard to trust God, to believe that a particular situation would turn out okay? What helped you to cope with such a situation?

3. In the second reading, Paul speaks about ‘obedient faith’ and our ‘call to holiness.’ What do these important phrases mean to you? What do they ask of you?

4. Joseph never speaks in the Bible. How does his silent witness speak to you?

5. In the Gospel, the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. Is Marian devotion a part of your spirituality? If it is, how does it find expression in your life? If not, what makes you reluctant to take Mary into your heart?

6. Name one thing today’s Gospel says to us that we disciples of Jesus need to heed and act on.

More Discussion Questions (by Anne Osdieck)

Responding to the Word

Suggestions on ways to act:

1. Think and pray about your call to trust God in all things, your call to a life of “obedient faith,” and your call to live a holy life.

2. Look for ways to be holy by reaching out to someone who is alone and lonely this season.


Having listened to God’s Word and listened to others’ reflections on it, take a quiet moment to reflect on what you are hearing God say to you. Your response will be what you bring to Eucharist on Sunday, asking Jesus to help you respond as he asks of you. When ready, jot down your reflections.

Praying with the Word

Loving God, you placed before us the wonderful witness of St. Joseph, a man who listened to, discerned and acted on your Word to him. Help me to grow in my desire and ability to hear discernment and obey your Word.

Copyright © 2019. Joe Milner; For more intercessions go to the Sunday Web Site at Saint Louis University.

For the Church: that we, like Joseph, may wholeheartedly live our faith traditions and yet remain open to the mystery of God’s unconventional work in our lives and the world around us…

For openness of heart: that, like Mary and Joseph, we may enter into the mystery of God’s loving actions and co-operative with the work of God even when we don’t understand how to proceed…

For the gift of wisdom: that like Mary, we may perceive the invitation of God in the strange and sometimes unreasonable situations into which God calls us …

For freedom from judging others: that like Joseph, we may hold our judgments so that the work of God may unfold in the hearts and lives of those who are dear to us…

For all who are having an unplanned pregnancy: that they may honor the gift of life entrusted to them and draw strength from God to love and nurture their child…


Closing prayer

Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love,that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Catechism Links

Homiletic Directory

Mary’s virginal motherhood

CCC 496-507, 495

Mary the Mother of Christ by the Holy Spirit

Jesus as Savior revealed to Joseph

CCC 1846

Christ the Son of God in his Resurrection

CCC 445, 648, 695

the “obedience of faith”

CCC 143-149, 494, 2087

NOTE: The above paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church resonate with this week’s biblical readings. They have been chosen because they cite or allude to the specific readings, or because they treat topics found in the readings.

Catechism Table of Contents

Catechism Index

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Commentary Text: ©2019 Fr. Eamon Tobin, Commentaries & Faith Sharing PDF Handout.
Songs, photos of artwork, videos and scripture verses are curated by They do not necessarily reflect Fr. Tobin’s opinions or preferences.
Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission.
Intercession starters: Copyright © 2019. Joe Milner; visit The Sunday Web Site at Saint Louis University for a whole lot more.
Catechism links go to mobile friendly site at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. Copyright permission for posting of the English translation of the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH on the web site was granted by Amministrazione Del Patrimonio Della Sede Apostolica, case number 130389.
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