4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent

Vol. 6, No. 15
13 December 2016
Lacy King

Annunciation of birth of Jesus to Joseph

The word advent comes from the Latin “ad-venire” or “to come to”. Advent begins the Liturgical year and the season of Advent leads to the celebration of Christmas. Christ shall come to us in the form of pure innocence, a baby. A baby conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. A baby whose earthly father, Joseph, was chosen by God because of his righteous yet compassionate nature. This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading from Matthew tells us the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective.

Joseph played a very special part in our salvation. God called him to love, cherish, and protect two figures central to our faith: our savior Jesus, and our Blessed mother Mary. What an amazing calling.

We will now walk, step by step, through the birth of Jesus as told in Matthew’s gospel.

The story of the holy family in Matthew’s gospel begins simply, “this is how the birth of Christ came about.” This is followed by an introduction to the nature of Mary and Joseph’s relationship.

“When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together…”

You may wonder, as I did, what brought Mary and Joseph together?

Mary was the daughter of Joachim of the tribe of David, and she was his only heiress. At this time, when a daughter was the only heir, she was obliged to marry a man in her own tribe so that the inheritance might not pass to another tribe. How divinely provident that this husband is to be St. Joseph.

When a woman was betrothed to a man, it meant more than what we would consider today as being “engaged”. The Jewish wedding ceremony was a two part ceremony. The first was the sealing of the marriage contract where the bridegroom gave the bride’s father a certain sum of money and thus the bride received her “dowry”. The contract was now binding and the man and woman were betrothed. The second event, which happened several months later, was the formal introduction of the bride to the groom’s home, the blessing of the consummation and the wedding feast. While this may seem analogous to an engagement and wedding ceremony of today, the betrothal was a binding contract and the two were considered married. Tim Staples explains it this way: “Referring to Mary and Joseph as ‘engaged’… would be like calling a modern couple at their wedding reception ‘engaged’ because they have yet to consummate their marriage.”

And then we learn, “she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Let us briefly reflect during this Christmas season on the Holy Spirit, the bearer of the most beautiful gifts we can receive. The Holy Spirit bestows upon us, if we are open to them, the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. In this week’s gospel, we reflect on the greatest gift the Holy Spirit will deliver to us, the incarnation of Jesus.

The following excerpt from a commentary on Matthew chapter 1 from the Confraternity Bible* gave interesting insight on the Holy Spirit’s role in the Nativity of Jesus:

“As the incarnation of the Son of God was effected by the whole blessed Trinity, it may be asked why this operation is peculiarly attributed to the Holy Ghost, not only here, but in Luke ii. and in the apostles’ creed? The answer is, because as power is attributed to the Father, wisdom to the Son, so goodness is attributed to the Holy Ghost, and the gifts of grace which proceed from it. “

Every time we recite the Nicene Creed at Mass we acknowledge the miraculous conception of our savior Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary is made possible by the Holy Spirit. Mary and Joseph, these two seemingly common individuals were so open to God’s love that they became the Holy Family, receiving the most miraculous gift God had to offer, the gift of his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Are we open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we using the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to us to show others the joy, the love, and the mercy of God?

The gospel goes on to show Joseph’s love for Mary and further reveal his compassionate nature.

“Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.”

Joseph does not yet know the divine nature of Mary’s pregnancy. However, he chooses to protect her knowing that a betrothed woman found with child was an offense punishable by death under Jewish law. Just as our Heavenly Father, Joseph is righteous, but also loving, compassionate and merciful.

Fr. Don Miller writes this about St. Joseph:

The Bible pays Joseph the highest compliment: he was a ‘just’ man. The quality meant a lot more than faithfulness in paying debts.

When the Bible speaks of God ‘justifying’ someone, it means that God, the all-holy or ‘righteous’ one, so transforms a person that the individual shares somehow in God’s own holiness, and hence it is really ‘right’ for God to love him or her. In other words, God is not playing games, acting as if we were lovable when we are not.

By saying Joseph was ‘just’ the Bible means that he was one who was completely open to all that God wanted to do for him. He became holy by opening himself totally to God.

Joseph could have easily and justifiably left Mary. Even now, we would not fault him, for on the surface it appears his wife has been adulterous. His story would have ended here.

How many of our stories would have ended had we acted on our own volition instead of being open to God’s plan for us?

Then, Matthew reveals to us the message the angel of the Lord gives to Joseph:

“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.”

The angel addresses Joseph as son of David. This is quite significant. The angel is reminding Joseph, despite his humble nature, of his royal lineage/ He is a descendant of the great King David with whom God made a covenant that his kingdom would be restored. In the preceding verses, Matthew purposefully and meticulously lays out the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph. And now the angel addresses Joseph as son of David. This both emphasizes Joseph’s righteousness and dignity, and more importantly develops the Old Testament roots of Jesus to unfold the story of our salvation.

It is here the angel assures Joseph of Mary’s innocence and the divine nature of the baby in her womb. The angel encourages him to proceed with the second part of the Jewish wedding ceremony and take Mary as his wife into his home.

Is your faith strong enough to hear the assuring voice of the Lord in your most difficult, confusing times? Are you listening?

The gospel reading concludes:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive 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.”

We are further tied back to the Old Testament here and the first reading today, in which Isaiah addresses the “house of David” and tells them of the coming of the Son of the virgin, “Emmanuel”.

As stated in this Sunday’s gospel, Emmanuel in Hebrew means “God is with us”. This is the prophecy that the Holy Family will live out. God is with them, both literally and spiritually. The angel tells Joseph to name his son Jesus. Jesus in Hebrew means “God Saves”. They will raise the child that is to be the Savior of world. How complex and beautiful is this story? It is surreal to think that we are recipients of such a beautiful gift made possible through the lives of Mary and Joseph and their submission to God’s will.

Do we obey the Lord as Mary and Joseph did? How fruitful and complete would our lives be if we were actively following God’s commands and living according to His plan for us?

As we draw closer to the conclusion of Advent, we celebrate the beginning of the life of Jesus. We celebrate the birth of a beautiful baby to the Virgin Mary and His loving earthly father Joseph. How happy and fearful they must have been, as any new parents, whose newfound purpose is to love and protect their child; their child, the Son of God. As parents and children we can relate to this newfound joy and responsibility. Let us strive to radiate the love God has for us as he made evident through the lives of the Holy Family.

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