We are accustomed to call the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary ‘the annunciation’. This Sunday’s gospel reading perhaps ought to be called ‘the annunciation to Joseph’. Joseph is in fact the principal actor in the account of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Like Mary, he too had to listen for the message of God. Like Mary, he too was invited to play his part in the working out of God’s mysterious plan that the Son of God should become man. This gospel reading, just like the annunciation to Mary in the Gospel of Luke, gives us the basis for our belief in the virginal conception of Jesus. Here we find an expression of this mystery in the words of the angel to Joseph: ‘she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit’ (v.20). The Son of God is born among us in an utterly extraordinary way. The role of Mary as ‘virgin mother’ is quite unique, and Joseph has to go against his initial inclinations and make the decision to ‘take his wife to his home’ (verse 24).
In this reading we encounter the first of many verses which Matthew will quote from the Old Testament, declaring that they are ‘fulfilled’. The text read at this Mass from the prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s constant solidarity with the people. The fulfilment of this same text, which is announced by Matthew in the gospel reading, points to something even greater, the extraordinary intervention of God to bring the Son of God into the world.