4th Sunday of Advent - Gospel Reading

Fourth Sunday of Advent [A]
December 19, 2010

Reflection on the Gospel Reading

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. 

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 

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.” 

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.

Sunday’s Gospel passage sets the stage for the Nativity.  Its focus is Saint Joseph, and his vocation as the foster-father of Jesus.  Consider Joseph’s vocation in light of the two names by which his foster-child is described here:   Jesus and Emmanuel.

The name “Jesus” means “God saves”, while “Emmanuel” means “God with us”.  Taken together they dispel two contrary beliefs:  that God will save us only from a distance; and that God comes into our midst only to condemn us.  Instead, these two names together confirm that God is with us in order to save us.

In Joseph’s dream, the angel of the Lord commands two things of Joseph.  The first is not to be afraid to take Mary… into [his] home.  The second is to name [Mary’s son] Jesus.  Both of these commands imply acceptance.  Generally, they imply acceptance of God’s providential Will.  Specifically, they imply acceptance of Mary and Jesus as his own.  In spite of the apparent shame caused by Mary—because she accepted God’s Will at the Annunciation—God calls Joseph to protect Mary as her husband, and to stand with her in accepting with patience the unfolding of God’s Providence.

In spite of Mary’s apparent betrayal of her betrothal to Joseph, God calls Joseph to name Mary’s son.  This act itself, independent of the name Joseph would give the child, is significant.  This act had legal significance in the culture of Joseph, and by this act, Joseph would have been claiming the child as his own.  With this claim, Joseph undoubtedly would have invited shame upon himself, as many would have seen this act as an admission that he had fathered a child outside of a fully ratified marriage.

Part of the irony of this passage, then, is that Mary and Joseph, by their submission to God’s providential Will, foreshadow the life of Jesus.  Mary and Joseph are scorned and cast aside as sinners precisely because of their faithfulness to what God wants to accomplish in Christ.  Jesus will not only be rejected as a sinner on Calvary:  in the words of Saint Paul, He will be made sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him [2 Corinthians 5:21].

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The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)