Advent 4 Matthew 1 The Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 

The Lord has come to Man

Christmas is the feast of the Holy Family. Joseph serves the future by taking Mary as his wife and so securing the nest in which the future is born. The holy Family is a revelation that God is with Man. And that Man is with Woman. That man is with woman, and that together they are with the next generation, and that generation will succeed generation and so man will be renewed is the fundamental truth about man. Though mortal, he is renewed

The Holy Family. The family is the source of our life. It is inviolable, and fundamental, and nothing should push it way into it. It is the evidence of our sovereignty. As Mary and Joseph, we can willingly give birth to the future. We can give birth to man, to someone who is not simply ourselves. We can take the risk and pass on life. We can take the risk with anyone, with other people’s teenage children and young people, those who are not parented – even though this will be difficult and often unsuccessful (and so take up our cross)

In this nativity scene there are four actors. We see two before us, and we ourselves are a third actor. The fourth actor are those who see us, as we first watch and then participate in the action of the two before us. God is the first actor here, and the initiator of this event. God gave to humanity his Son. In sending his Son, he gave himself. God whom we cannot see gave us God whom we can see. God whom we can see lives in responsible to God whom we cannot see, and we can see this life as this response. The Son lives before the Father, but also before us. The Father and his Son are the first and second actors, and we are the third. The Father gave this son to Mary. He gave her his Son. She took him for us. She received him, and so we have received him. Mary represents all humanity here; she receives the Son of God as she receives this child. Mary hold Jesus; we all cluster round. Holding Jesus, gazing at Jesus and adoring Jesus is Mary’s job; clustering round is our job. Then we can also gaze at Jesus and adore the two of them together. Jesus is the perfected and perfecting form of humanity. In accepting, receiving and holding him, Mary is the perfected form of humanity. She is perfected by the one she holds, and perfected by holding him. And we are the humanity that is perfected by gathering round, gazing and adoring this child, and so by giving him, rather than anyone else, our worship. We do this publicly, before the fourth actor, the world that looks on and decides whether or not to join us.

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife

We are men and women. We are not undifferentiated beings. We are differentiated from one another, and the primary differentiation that generates all others, is our sex. We are male or female, either one or the other. This differentiation is prior to any decision of ours.

We are beings oriented toward one another, by the differences of gifts. Each of us lacks some gift or other, and has to receive them indirectly through the agency of someone else who does have that gift. We require each other and desire each other. We go looking for that particular person who can provide for us what we cannot provide for ourselves, for that person who is ready to do this, and willing to do so for good. 

But when we admit to desiring someone, we have made ourselves vulnerable, for they may not want us. None of us like being let down, so none of us enjoy being open and vulnerable. Perhaps none of us likes being dependent on someone else for our identity. No one likes being weak. Women punish men because women don’t like relying on anyone other than themselves. Some people say they don’t like the fact that the world is differentiated into these two divisions, sexes A & B. They are angry and they direct their anger at men. Of course, all this is chiefly the preoccupation of middle-class men and women in the West.

Do not be afraid to take her as your wife

Our society has set itself against men. It is becoming a man-punishment session. It is sexual differentiation-denial session. But to punish, humiliate and push out men is inevitably to punish women also. To rob men of their dignity and purpose function is to rob women of their dignity too. For each of us has dignity because someone else gives it to us; dignity comes through being acknowledged and thanked by someone for whatever they have received from us. 

All this is evidence of a great howling unhappiness. For we know we are not complete, we look for what we do not have, we search for what we need. And yet we do not like to be not in control of our own future. We do not want to be dependent on something we cannot command, or summon and make obedient to ourselves. We yearn, but we don’t like doing so. We stretch towards this or that quality, but what we want can only ever be that other person, who has this quality, and who can always supply what we will always need. We need them to plug our gaps. 

Men have taken this all very seriously. They have believed what they ought not to have believed. They should have resisted, but many have capitulated. They have been told that they are not worthy and disastrously many of them have come to believe it.  

All this is all nothing but a vast exercise in self-harm. We are complicit in it until that moment at which we finally stand up and declare that it is untrue. Men are not unworthy. Men are good. Men are good enough for women, and that in all probability that there is a woman who able to acknowledge that this man is good enough, and she will respect him, live with him, allow him to serve her, and so love and live with him. She will be able to give him what she has but he doesn’t, receive from him what she does not have but he does, and above all to give him his dignity. Of course, there is no complete identity or equality or symmetry between them. But together they build one another up to become more robust and resilient, ready to compensate for what the other cannot provide and so together able to cope with whatever comes their way. These can grow and serve one another, and so they can become more supportive of one another and more worthy of one another. 

The world is determined by these two sexes. Their symmetry is never complete. There is just enough asymmetry to allow movement. Things do not remain as they are. People age, and people are born. Young people grow up, become our rivals, and push us aside, fill the place that we thought was ours, and take what we wanted, and become what we wanted to be. The world of human beings is not static. It lurches and shuffles forward. We are mortal. To acknowledge this is to concede only what is true. To seize the present moment, and to attempt to seize and hang on to what we have and make it permanent and set ourselves against a future that is not identical with the present, is to turn ourselves into tyrants and idols, and to insist that we are immortals. It is because there is no complete equality between the sexes that the present generation and the next generation are not in a perfectly balanced equilibrium, but the present generation, despite itself, is always crumbling away and ceding place to the new generation that is pushing up through it. Whether the old generation is willing to acknowledge the new or is determined to resist, the new generation must make its way, and as soon as it succeeds, acknowledge that it is only for a time. The perfect equilibrium of equality between the sexes could be realised only in conditions of immortality. The demand for equality for the sexes is a denial of our mortality, and so of our createdness. The demand for an ever more exact equality is only ever an attempt to secure power by one sex over the other, and of one class and one generation over another. Christians cannot commit themselves to power games such as these.

The Church stands for the continuity and continuation of human society. Our society like those of the first and second centuries may stand for its own unhappiness and dissolution, but the Church defies this impulse to suicide, and so it must insist on its own continuity and faithfulness to what it received, and so it can give our and any society the one thing it lacks the wish to go on, continue and survive. Those who demand a break with the past are demanding that we anoint man and hand all power to them. They show no comprehension or pity when our society is suffering doubt, and so many individuals are in despair. They are sawing off the branch on which they sit, and so destroying what our children could have expected to inherit.

A huge misstep has been taken. Whatever church pursues this path with always wither and disappear. It cannot prosper, and cannot be the Church, for it is ultimately just a cult justifying the power of those who presently wield it. But wherever the Church proclaims this Christmas news, truth and hope arrive, and the world has a future.