Joseph has dreams, and in his first dream he is instructed to take Mary for his wife and to name the child that is to be born Jesus. In my notes for Advent IV (below) it was noted that the name Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. Both Jesus and Joshua mean “God Saves.” And how does God save? In verse 1 of chapter one Matthew tells us that the child to be born will be named Emmanuel, “ which means God is with us.” God saves through God’s amazing presence; God saves through the taking on of human flesh and being born into the midst of the darkness of this world. It is not our goodness or our ability to follow the rules that saves us, we are saved through the grace of the love and presence of God in Christ Jesus, who is born of Mary on that Christmas day. It is this Jesus who brings light into the darkness of this world.
Have you ever noticed how important the theme of “light” is to our cultural celebration of Christmas? There are lights everywhere this time of year – in stores, homes, streets, parks, trees – everywhere. The theme of the light come into the darkness, which is stated so beautifully in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John is a theme which gives profound meaning to our celebration of Christmas, even in contexts which are not specifically Christian and even in contexts which may be hostile to Christianity. There is something profoundly comforting and reassuring about Christmas lights illuminating the darkness of the night.
In Matthew the theme of the light of Christ being born into the darkness of this world is played out in a more dramatic fashion. The baby is born “in the time of King Herod” and he is named Jesus, Emmanuel – God Saves/God is Present. Just the mention of King Herod confirms the darkness of the world into which Jesus is born. Herod the Great was perhaps one of the greatest architects and builders in history; he was also one of the bloodiest and most brutal dictators in history. Even the Emperor Octavian Augustus, not a timid man himself, was nevertheless taken aback at the scope of Herod’s violence and was known to have remarked that it was better to be Herod’s dog than one of his children. What follows then in chapter 2 is first a manipulative power play between the Magi and King Herod, in which Herod is tricked. This does not make him happy and he takes out his rage and his insecurity on the children of Bethlehem in the event known as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”
All of this confirms that Jesus is born into a world of darkness: a world of murder, violence, genocide, grief, sorrow, suffering, loneliness and fear. Jesus brings God’s presence into the midst of this darkness and provides light and comfort. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot over come it, “ says St. John. No matter how deep the darkness the promise of Christmas is that the light of Christ will always penetrate it with the presence of God’s love and grace and in that we are offered comfort and hope.
We still live in a world of deep darkness, and the promises of God to us through the birth of Jesus at Christmas continue to bring us hope. All those twinkling lights all over the city and in our homes and in our churches remind us that the Jesus Christ, born of Mary on Christmas, is the light of the world!