By Father William Dawson
“It all seems too good to be true.” Many years ago, at Christmas time, a parishioner spoke these words to me and I haven’t forgotten the deep faith they expressed.
What particular truths was that person thinking of that seemed “too good to be true?” One such truth could be that announced by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” In the Gospel, written eight centuries later, Matthew sees the prophecy as being fulfilled in Mary’s child and explains that the name means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
The Incarnation initiated a new era of God’s involvement and reign. God was so central in Jesus’ life that people saw new potential in their own lives. Like Matthew they believed that in Jesus, God had personally identified with them from birth to death, from death to life. Think of it: God is with us in all our lives and deaths. The last words in Matthew’s Gospel echo this same truth: “And behold I am with you always, until the end of time.
In a sermon on joy, William Sloane Coffin, well-known peace activist and pastor of Riverside Church in New York, writes: “Two years ago in the early morning hours when I received word that my son had been killed, friends came to my apartment. They helped prevent despair from drowning me in grief. And that is exactly the way it is with Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ This child, whose birthday we celebrate soon, is not a memory but a presence, a constant, caring presence which brings a touch of heavenly joy to every earthly sorrow.”
There are so many ways that God is with us — in sacred Scripture, in our prayer, in all of creation, in our love for one another, in the Eucharist, in all of the sacraments, in family life, in our work, in the poor and homeless, in our faith community. Christmas is the joyous celebration of that presence of God that continues for all time. Jesus is forever Emmanuel — God with us.
(Fr. Dawson is a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport.)