|by Angela Lambert|
December 18th, 2016; 4th Sunday in Advent
Gospel Matthew 1:18-24 NAB
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.
Immanuel, God-with-us. We no longer must suffer alone, weak and afraid. The Lord has come and brought with Him the comfort, strength, and peace of His holy presence dwelling in our souls and working in the world with His transforming grace. We experience something of this peace and strength in family life. Being with our parents makes us feel secure and protected. Being with our children brings us joy and comfort.
The Holy Family experienced this as well, and made it possible for all of us. Mary’s fiat, her “yes”, made the Incarnation possible and therefore the redemption of all mankind. Joseph’s fiat, his “yes”, made the Holy Family possible. He accepted Christ as He was, in the surprising and shocking form in which He came. His decision to take Jesus and Mary into his home and make them His own family was the fruit of God’s grace in concert with his virtues. This required serious discernment and prayer, both of which he models for all Christians.
Joseph was a just, or righteous man. This does not mean he was without sin whatsoever, but it did mean he consistently strove for virtue, followed the Mosaic Law, and lived his faith. Early Christian writings not included in the Bible, such as the Protoevangelium of James, indicate that Mary’s parents consecrated her to God and so she would serve God in the temple and take a vow of virginity. As a result, she grew up in the Temple from the age of 3 until she was of marrying age. It was a Jewish practice that at that point she would be entrusted to the care of a guardian who would protect her and would respect her vow of virginity by taking a vow of celibacy himself. Oftentimes this would be a man who was older and widowed. Some think this explains why Joseph had died by the time of Jesus’ public ministry. According to the Protoevangelium of James, from among the men who wished to take Mary as their wife, Joseph was chosen as Mary’s husband by a miraculous sign. Imagine his surprise, confusion, and disillusionment, when he learned she was pregnant. His response to the situation is so admirable, strong, and level-headed. He’s a model for anyone who must make difficult decisions in complicated and emotional situations.
Joseph made a prudent decision, based on who he was and his faith. Purity and honor being important virtues, he decided he could not take her into his home as his wife. (At the time, betrothal was a solemn contract with the weight of marriage, but preceded living together as husband and wife). At the same time, he was a compassionate and merciful man. Matthew tells us Joseph was “unwilling” to expose her to shame. I imagine he had plenty of men and women urging him to exact the full measure of the Jewish law against her, to publicly humiliate her, and to get sweet revenge for embarrassing him. Joseph would not. He was unwilling. Joseph made a decision to do the right thing quietly. In the RSV translation, it says he “resolved to send her away quietly.” To be resolved indicates a decision made with prudence, strength, and determination, detached from pettiness and emotion.
Joseph focused on how to thoughtfully and prayerfully doing the next right thing. Because of this, God guided his discernment. The RSV translation says, “But as he considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him”. The word “considered” is important. The spiritual life is ultimately one of love, fidelity, and receptivity. We are followers of God, not leaders of God. God guided Joseph’s considerations for his family, just as God guides every father who will invite the Lord into his discernment. When God spoke, Joseph faithfully and lovingly followed through with God’s will.
Immanuel, God-with-us. How might we as mothers and fathers invite God to be with us in our families and our decision-making? How might we say yes to the Father and welcome His Son? How might we accept the family that God has entrusted to us, rather than the one we imagine for ourselves? God works in surprising and shocking ways. This Advent, taking a moment to consider who we are and what we believe, may St. Joseph pray for us to have the kind of steady and faith-filled approach to life’s complications that he did.
- Joseph’s yes made it possible for Jesus to have a family. Consider what a gift it was for him to grow up with Mary as His mom and Joseph as His foster-father.
- Consider Joseph’s prayerful leadership. How might you imitate St. Joseph’s discernment in your own life?
- Do you take time to “consider” things and “resolve” to follow through?
- What things, habits, or people undermine that, urging you to react immediately and emotionally?
- What things, habits, or people could help you develop deeper consideration and stronger resolve?
- Ask Joseph to lead you and your family, as He did for Jesus and Mary. Pray for his protection, guidance, and love.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Teresa of Avila and numerous other saints recommend devotion to St. Joseph and credit his powerful intercession for answers to their prayers. I too can attest to this from my own life. This week, ask St. Joseph to pray for you and for your family. st-joseph-prayer
- Do you know someone who is like St. Joseph? Spend more time with that person and learn from his example. Take him to coffee and ask him lots of questions and take his advice.
- Surrender a complicated decision to the Lord in quiet prayer. Consider who you are, what our Christian faith says about the situation, and resolve to do the next right thing with the help of the Holy Spirit.
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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