(from the book: Where is the Child? by Fr. R. Marcos (Makati: St Pauls); 

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First Reading: Jeremiah 23:5-8


See, days are coming—oracle of the Lord—when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name to be given him: “The Lord our justice.”

Therefore, the days are coming—oracle of the Lord—when they shall no longer say, “As the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, “As the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north”— and from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own soil.


A. Short Background on the First Reading


1. After speaking of unfaithful shepherds (kings), Jeremiah prophesies about a coming king from the “righteous branch” of David. The prophet describes the king’s qualities: justice, righteousness, and wisdom. This king would be in contrast with the previous ones, who no longer fulfilled the role of ideal rulers of God’s people. The promised king was given a name: The Lord our justice.

2. The prophecy involves the vision of a restored people, after the Babylonian destruction and the exile endured by the people of God. This new restoration would be so great that it was even compared to the exodus event, an experience dear to the memory of every Israelite.


B. Reflections on the First Reading


Reflection 1: Justice


One of the ideals of a good society is justice. Justice may be understood in terms of right relationships. When a relationship is defective or in disarray, the road to injustice is opened. Injustice happens when in a home, for example, the parents are negligent of their responsibilities as leaders of the household, when chidren refuse to honor and obey their parents, when there is a lack of trust in one another or a breakdown in communication between the family members.

Injustice enters society when the leaders fail to consider and value the legitimate needs and demands of the people, and instead, focus only on their personal interests or their lust for power, privilege, and wealth. We do injustice to God when we sever our relationship with him by failing to render him true adoration. The lure of money and riches, fame or popularity, achievement and power and security leads people to forget God or to devalue their relationship with God.

For justice to happen, there must be a healing of relationships, a grace that we can all pray for in the Simbang Gabi.


Reflection 2: Fidelity in Relationships


The Lord detests the infidelity of his chosen shepherds and promises to send one who is truly faithful. Unfaithfulness is a scourge to any family and to society. Sadly, we witness the rupture of once-stable relationships even in the institution called marriage or family. Poverty tears people away from each other in search of better economic opportunities in faraway regions or even abroad. Once separated from loved ones, the threat of loneliness becomes a great temptation to overcome. Many succumb to acts of infidelity when they feel lonely and desolate. Even when families are physically together, infidelity can still seep in due to a culture that promotes casual relationships and pleasurable companionships.

This Simbang Gabi, it may be a great idea to encourage people to look into their relationships and to find traces of temptation or sins against fidelity to people and to God. We must ask God for the grace to make amends for these faults and to reestablish meaningful bonds.

Let us also invite people to pray for those who are most vulnerable to the temptation of neglecting their commitment to their families or loved ones—overseas workers, students in the cities, young people exposed to wrong orientation on love and relationships, leaders in the Church and in government who tend to abuse their power to dominate others.


GOSPEL: Matthew 1:18-25


Now 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. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.  He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.


A. Short Background on the Gospel


1. Today we read the narrative of the annunciation to St. Joseph. In the infancy narratives, the angel comes to announce a special message to several persons: Joseph, Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds.

Matthew’s gospel tells of how Joseph slowly came to understand the plan of God that started with the mysterious pregnancy of Mary, to whom Joseph was already engaged to be married. His comprehension of divine design came through an angelic visitation. The angel announces to him a “special birth” story. A special birth story is common in the Bible and happens in moments when God decisively intervenes in the history of humanity to accomplish his plan of salvation. The Bible gives us the precedents in the birth of Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

The unique quality of the special birth story explained to Joseph is the “virgin birth” of the coming Son of God. The child was to be born without the agency of a human father since the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit made possible the conception of this baby in his mother’s womb.

The Child of Mary, who will be under the legal guardianship of Joseph, will not be just a simple messenger from heaven but will be the Emmanuel awaited by Israel. Joseph will name him Jesus, for he is the Savior of the world, the Christ of God.

2.  Joseph is introduced to us in this Gospel passage. His character reveals a special way of following the Lord. Joseph enters into a painful episode in his relationship with his bride-to-be and a rupture of the well-planned life he imagined for his future home with Mary.

While he couldn’t explain Mary’s pregnancy, except as a case of infidelity or being victimized against her will, Joseph’s righteous conscience couldn’t also bear the possibility of creating a scandal for Mary. He opted for a quiet divorce. But remarkably, he remained open to the angelic message that came through a dream. He reversed his decision and instead supported Mary in her own confusing enigma of a pregnancy by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph opened himself to the invitation of God to collaborate with him in his saving plan.

Joseph obeyed God and dedicated his life to this divinely appointed role as the legal head of the family of the Savior. Catholic tradition upholds the belief that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary maintained a chaste relationship, mindful of the magnitude of their calling to be instruments of God in the care and nurture of Jesus, God’s only Son.


B. Reflections on the Gospel


Reflection 1: Silence


The Gospel reminds us that silence is essential to Christmas. Not only the “silent night” of that first Christmas. Not the silence of the schools and the streets when people go to their holiday getaway. It is all about the silence of the heart before the presence of God who fills our life with the good news.

In this we have St. Joseph, probably the only major Advent and Christmas character who never uttered a single word. Joseph teaches us by his silence. From his example, we can find two reasons why silence is important to people of today, especially as we reflect on the mystery of the Lord’s birth.

First, silence is important in moments of confusion and crisis. In our age, people react so easily with words. When we are confronted with problems, we readily shout, curse, or threaten. And so, we deepen the hurt we cause on others. We do violence through the impact of our bitter, negative words.

St. Joseph learned of Mary’s unexplained pregnancy. But he did not pass judgment on her immediately. He took refuge in silence—thinking, planning a quiet divorce, and surely praying over his decision. It was in the midst of this that he was enlightened by the angel’s assurance of divine action. He made a decisive action to embrace as his own the Son of God in Mary’s womb. Remember the times when you got into more trouble because you spoke too soon, when you reacted too easily, without taking time to reflect.

Second, silence is important in order to truly hear the voice of God. It is a maxim of spiritual life that God cannot be heard amidst noise, external or internal. People today are so accustomed to noise, with television and radio blaring the whole day. And when we’re out of the house, something’s got to be playing on the car stereo or something must be stuck into one’s ears. Not only do we not hear one another, but we also feel so awkward when we must already pray.

St. Joseph was considered a “just man” because he was in the right relationship with God. This is only possible because he was truly open and humble, always expecting God to speak even in his dreams. Are we also capable of quality moments, spent with God in silence and also with loved ones, when they can feel that we are present in a loving and open way?


Reflection 2: Importance of Life


The birth of a child… isn’t this one of the best news that any family can have? In our time, though, it is troubling that the good news of the birth of a child has become for some people an omen. Many couples are afraid to have children. Some couples refuse to have children. In this refusal to receive the child in their midst, many sins have taken root.

The most detestable of these is abortion. We have crafted many reasons for its continued practice. The fetus is not a child; inside the womb are mere tissues and not life. That makes it easier to terminate that growing flesh. Our faith tells us that within the womb there is a human being, another person. It is a person waiting to be received and loved. It is a horrible sin to kill this young person, unimaginable indeed to fall into the merciless hands of its own parents.

There should not be any refusal of life in the world. But people today prefer unbridled pleasure in place of responsibility. And every time people embrace this attitude, the helpless victim is an unborn child. Couples without a clear vision for a common future, reckless youth who waste their lives on romantic pursuits, weak people entrapped in illicit affairs—these and many others make the child among us suffer.

The angel announces to Joseph the blessings that will accompany the birth of the Child of Mary. He will be an immense grace to the world. Let us ask St. Joseph to obtain for us the grace to overcome the fear of welcoming the blessing of a child in our life.


Reflection 3: Suffering of the Saints


There is a danger in the pictures of the so-called plaster saints. They only manage to show us how peaceful these saints must be now that they are in heaven. They do not show us the struggles that made them saints. They do not tell us about the sufferings and trials they underwent for love of God.

Thankfully, we have the Gospel telling us about Joseph’s life and his unique response to God. Joseph, engaged to Mary, learned that she was carrying a child that was not his, because the pregnancy was beyond his knowledge.

In the beautiful film, Nativity, Joseph was portrayed in full human qualities. When he saw that Mary was pregnant, Joseph was seething with anger. He was disappointed at Mary, furious at her betrayal. He was also filled with shame, for what would the neighbors think—that he was a weakling, a fool falling in love with a flirtatious woman? Watching that film, I came to appreciate how much Joseph suffered when he couldn’t reconcile his plans with the events that God allowed to happen to him and his future bride.

But as Joseph slept, he saw a vision in his dream. And the vision told him not to fear because God was asking him to be part of his great plan in the coming of his Son. Yes, he was not the natural father of the Child because God was its father. But Joseph would be asked to undertake a mission for God—to be the legal, earthly father to God’s only Son.

Joseph did not question God or doubt God’s wisdom. When it became clear that God wanted something else to unfold in his life, he opened his heart to accommodate God’s will. He did not insist on his own. In surrendering his struggles before the broader plan of God, Joseph gained peace. The road to holiness opened up for him. This can be a source of great inspiration to us. Wresting with our fears, doubts, pain, and frustrations, we are also called to become holy if we stay open to God.

Let us remember that saints traversed difficult paths, much the same as we have in our lives today. They knew how to struggle and wrestle with painful situations and questions. Let us ask their help so that we may find peace in surrendering our will before the greater design of the Lord.


Reflection 4: Fathers of Families


Joseph was to be the “foster father” of Jesus. Exegetes point out that he is more appropriately the “legal father” of Jesus since it was his task to provide a name and a family for the Child. But even as foster or legal father, Joseph truly became a father to the Lord, for fatherhood is more than just a mere fact of biological or physical generation.

A man is truly a father when he invests his life and energy in the spiritual and moral formation of his children. We have reasons to believe that Joseph did not only bequeath his trade of carpentry to Jesus but he did his best to serve as God’s representative on earth to the boy Jesus.

The life of Joseph is a reminder to us that a home or community is not built on power and possessions, nor on riches and wealth, but on goodness. Joseph reminds us that what matter most are faith, fidelity, purity, and mutual love.

Today we feel the challenges to fatherhood. Many young people in the Philippines are growing up physically or emotionally apart from a father figure. The effect of this fatherlessness on young people is deeply alarming because it is something that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

This Simbang Gabi, let us pray for our fathers and grandfathers. Let us ask St. Joseph to help us by sending good fathers who will be responsible heads of families.


Reflection 5: Today’s O Antiphon


December 18: O Adonai (Lord) and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flames of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come and redeem us with outstretched arm.

It is easy to feel uncomfortable with the titles that convey the idea of dominance or control or that express separation or tension between persons. The title “Lord” is like this. If there is a lord or master, there must be a servant or someone inferior under him.

In Jesus, we have a different kind of Lord. He does not cause division, separation, or domination to emerge. In him the God who is above us now becomes so close to us. The God who is beyond history is now inserted in all our events and experiences. It is a great paradox and yet this is the desire of God, to bring people close to his heart.

There are many lords in people’s lives today, what command people to act. Our lives are cluttered by material things, emotional baggage, psychological garbage, and others that enslave and oppress us.

This antiphon reminds us that Christmas is about the true Lord of all, the one Thomas will later on proclaim: My Lord and my God! But he is a Lord who bows down to reach us in love. Let us allow the Lord Jesus to envelop us in his tight embrace so that we may be reunited with the Father in the Spirit.

To deepen our devotion to St. Joseph, I wish to share with you this simple but powerful prayer:


Powerful Novena to St. Joseph


O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ our Lord. So that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving to the most loving of fathers.

O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while he reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss his fine head for me and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen.