This Most Holy Night

Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Date: The Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve + 12/24/17

The angel said to Joseph, “do not fear.” But what’s there to be afraid of? Well, plenty. First is the appearance of an angel, a messenger from God. These created beings of God have personality, that is, they are persons with intelligence and will. We know from scripture that they also have great numbers and great might. What they do not have are physical bodies like ours. But then, because of that, though like us they can only be in one place at a time, nevertheless they can change places instantly. Distance does not limit. So, when you stop to consider this report in detail, that encounter alone would cause a certain level of fear. “Joseph, do not be afraid.”

But Joseph was already beset by fear before the angel appeared for his wife, Mary, “before they came together was found to be with child.” Now Mary herself earlier was “greatly troubled” when the angel appeared to her to announce what was going to happen. But the angel said to her also, “Do not be afraid, Mary.” We’re not told if Mary said anything about this to Joseph. It would seem strange if she didn’t. Yet, when it happened Joseph was troubled revealing that it may be that she had kept things a secret until it could be kept secret no longer.

St. Matthew tells us what we need to know about this most amazing miracle of God coming down to take on the flesh of His own creation. “She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Unlike Joseph’s possible initial fears, we are not allowed to even consider any sinful act on Mary’s part. Secondly, by this time in Israel’s history divorce replaced death by stoning as the remedy for out of wedlock pregnancy. So Joseph is called a “just man,” that is his plan for divorce was an acceptable option.

Being a righteous and just believer in God, would this not also cause a note of fear for Joseph, namely, to be told what was happening was the direct activity of almighty God and that something very sacred, very holy was going on. Think of when God appeared to Moses. There was a holy fear. Or when God called Isaiah the prophet who cringed in fear for seeing God. ‘Makes you think that we may be too nonchalant or unaware or worse disbelieving when Jesus gives Himself not only into our ears and hearts but also into our mouths! Surely the acts of kneeling and folded hands and the sign of the cross are expressions of holy fear.

But “Joseph, do not be afraid.” And how many times in the Bible hasn’t Jesus said the same thing? “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mt. 10:31); and “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12,32). When He walked on the water to His distressed disciples in a storm on the sea “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt. 14:27). When He recruited James and John to be His followers He said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk. 5:10). And, of course, after His resurrection “the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid. for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Mt 28:5-6), and the risen Jesus Himself said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Mt 28:10).

The only acceptable fear is that of faith that grasps the gift of God for our salvation. St. Peter describes the life of faith when he says, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet 1:17).

On this most holy night, however, the angels join together in a mighty chorus. We hear from St. Luke those familiar words this most holy night.

    And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:8-14).

On this most holy night, therefore, once again we marvel but do not fear at how God comes to us and we are drawn to Him by faith in this little child, this king both human and divine, come to reunite us with our creator through His most precious body and blood, on this most holy night.