4th Sunday of Advent A

It sometimes surprises us, but in Matthew’s Gospel, the focal point of the birth of Jesus is not on Mary, but Joseph.  In fact, Mary does not speak a word in the birth narrative while all the action appears on Joseph’s side.  To him belongs the dream and to him belongs the decisions we await for salvation history to unspool.

So let us follow Joseph through this story in the Ignatian style.  St. Ignatius of Loyola trained his Jesuits to choose a character from a Gospel story and follow them along imagining what their emotions and reactions would be.  Perhaps it is why Pope Francis has such keen insights into the Gospel.

We meet Joseph in the middle of the story. We are told simply that Mary became pregnant in the time after she was betrothed to Joseph but before they lived together.  Imagine the heartbreak and shame he must have felt.  A new future with a new wife obliterated by what to all the world looks like Mary’s indiscretion.  In his anger, he could bring the full brunt of the Law against her.  He is thrown into the same situation as Jesus was with the Woman Caught in Adultery. He defies the Law he must cherished his whole life by sparing the life of Mary and choosing only to divorce her quietly. He is a man of mercy.

But then God asks for more.  An angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream and says, “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”  Not only that but the child will be the long awaited messiah whose very name means the people will be saved.  Could Joseph have a faith elastic enough to believe this would be true?  Could he believe that the redemption of the world could begin with a young woman and a poor carpenter?  How much do you believe in your dreams?

But Joseph, in a step that is never taken lightly, entrusts his entire life to that dream.  He believes in Mary’s choseness and his own role to play in redemption.  He is ready to believe the impossible, the Virgin becomes a mother, the poor child who will become king of kings, because he has faith in a God who has saved his people time and again in such unpredictable and outlandish fashion.

Yet, we have one last scene to be played out.  It is couched in the readings as “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  Clear enough.  But what was it like when he actually took this pregnant woman into his home.  He had already made the difficult decision not to expose Mary to the law.  Now he has taking her as his wife.  Imagine the scowls and the disdain they must have felt from their neighbors.  Do you think that Joseph even bothered explaining his dream to his friends? “Well.. you see, it’s alright because an angel said it was a miracle and Mary did nothing wrong and my son will be the savior.”  Would anybody who had not had the experience believe the experience?  He has to make a choice.  Will he let their opinion matter more than his mission? Thank God for us he does not.

But daily we face the same question.  Will we give power to others who would distract or who would insist that religion not be valued highly?  Will we stand up for what we believe in the hallways of our high schools?  Will the thoughts of others dissuade us from what we believe that God is calling us to do?  Will we surrender to God’s dream or live out a compromised version of love?  If Joseph or Mary allowed the hatred and cynicism of others to direct their lives there would be no Christmas to celebrate.  We would miss out on the greatest loves and moments of our lives if we too surrendered God’s call for others approval.   St. Joseph, give us the courage to heed the mission of God and we too will discover Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, as our reward.

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