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Icon of Saint Joseph.

4th Sunday of Advent (Year A)

The Good News is about the Son of God, who, according to the human nature he took, was a descendant of David.

Romans 1:3

Every person’s name is sacred, because God calls each one of us by name. The Church teaches us that ‘the name is the icon of the person.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2158) Certainly in Western society, we don’t place too much importance on names, so the idea that a name is ‘the icon of the person’ might seem a strange one. On the other hand, we know that when someone remembers our name and uses it, it makes a difference to us. We also know well enough that we like some names more than others and that, if we were naming a child, there are some names that we absolutely would not consider. That’s because, even if we don’t think about it much, we mentally associate images with names. They might be shadowy images, but they are there.

READINGS: Isaiah 7:10-14, Psalm 23(24), Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-24

Perhaps we might consider the icon of Saint Joseph (shown above). It’s not, of course, Saint Joseph - it’s an icon of Saint Joseph. We can quite quickly see a few basic things that it tells us about him. The halo reminds us that, in life, Joseph was a holy man who did what God asked of him. The two turtle doves represent the offering required by the Law on the birth of a child (see Leviticus 12:8). The doves remind us that Joseph was not a wealthy man (if had been wealthy, he would have been expected to offer a lamb). Of course, icons invite us to prayer and meditation, and the more we do that with them, the more we see.

‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel.’

Matthew Chapter 1, Verse 23

In the Gospel passage we are given three different names: Christ (or Messiah), Jesus and Emmanuel. The Evening Prayer of the Church refers to the Messiah as ‘the One Desired by all peoples.’ We are reminded that he is the only one who can fulfil our deepest hopes and longings. The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew ‘Yehoshua’, which means ‘the LORD (Yahweh) saves’. In Greek this becomes ‘Jesu’ (pronounced Yea-zoo), and from that we get the English ‘Jesus.’ The book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that this is the only name by which we can be saved from our sins (see Acts 4:12). The name Emmanuel, as we are told in the Gospel, means ‘God-is-with-us’. This comes in chapter 1 of Matthew’s Gospel, and we are reminded of it right at the end with Jesus’ own words: ‘I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ (Matthew 28:20)

      Even though we are so familiar with these three names, they can still very much serve as icons for us as we prepare for Christmas. Just as time spent in prayer and meditation with a painted icon will bring greater insight into what is present, these three names, which are icons of the person of Jesus Christ, will bear similar fruit.

Deacon Mark Howe

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