Jesus, Mary & Joysoph
As Lincoln might have said about the Incarnation: let us resolve that this species, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.
It is as if the entire cosmos and whole history of man are focused to a point, conferring "a decisive re-orientation toward a new manner of human existence" (Benedict).
This new beginning "opens up" new possibilities for man, possibilities that had previously been foreclosed. Now we not only have a horizontal genealogy, but also, so to speak, a vertical "pneumalogy" -- a direct line of common descent from the Father.
However, since this is a new birth of freedom, the link is not compulsory but voluntary. No one is forced into anything. The adoption papers have been drawn, but we still have to sign the dotted line.
On Friday night I watched what is supposed to be the Best Zombie Movie of All Time, I Walked With a Zombie. In it, one of the characters says something to the effect that their life is so miserable -- these are descendants of slaves who still toil on sugar plantations -- that they weep when a baby is born and "make merry" at funerals.
I suppose one could say the same of being born a peasant at the margins of the brutal Roman regime in 3 or 4 BC. There is indeed a great deal of pessimism in ancient thought, and it is difficult to see why there wouldn't be.
Chesterton touches on this in The Everlasting Man -- that even if one was not a slave, the vast majority of people were "insignificant or even invisible." Unlike today, the state didn't even bother pretending to be your friend. He speaks, for example, of the pyramids, which were erected
"under those everlasting skies for ever by the labour of numberless and nameless men, toiling like ants and dying like flies, wiped out by the work of their own hands."
The pyramids are supposed to be an enduring monument to man's greatness, but we forget that they point in two directions, or rather, like any Tower of Babel, they try to transform what is a meaningless existence into a meaningful one in a self-nullifying way -- like trying to prove the eternal greatness of Nazi Germany via a monument built by Jewish slave labor.
In this context, the annunciation of Jesus' conception is quite odd. As Benedict writes, the angel does not greet Mary with the usual Shalom or a colloquial Whassup?, but rather, with a word that translates to Rejoice!
For Benedict, this "marks the true beginning of the New Testament." You might say that the Gospel -- good news -- begins here, in a surprisingly literal manner. This joy is a "particular gift of the Holy Spirit.... a chord is sounded with the angel's salutation which then resounds through the life of the Church." Thus, "Rejoice, full of grace!" implicitly connects these two -- joy and grace -- which are "joined at the same root."
Remember, we can always say NO! to the offer of joy and grace. We are all entitled to spiritual birth control, which is none other than free will, or the power to render ourselves infertile and prevent a divine conception (and birth and growth). There is terrestrial abortion and there is celestial abortion, but the two are not unrelated.
Speaking of fertility, Benedict has a brief passage on Joseph. Not a great deal is said about him, but then again, to describe him as a "just man" says a great deal.
For Benedict it implies "one who maintains living contact with the word of God.... He is like a tree, planted beside the flowing waters, constantly bringing forth fruit." These vertical waters, "from which he draws nourishment, naturally refer to the living word of God, into which he sinks the roots of his being."
Furthermore, this is not something "imposed" from without or from on high, but something recognized and loved for what it is: it is that same Joy alluded to above:
"The image of the man with roots in the living waters of God's word, whose life is spent in dialogue with God and who therefore brings forth constant fruit -- this image becomes concrete in the event recounted here [his attitude toward Mary's surprising pregnancy], as well as in everything we are subsequently told about Joseph of Nazareth."