Today, on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel Reading helps us to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation that we will celebrate in seven days’ time. What a gripping first line we hear today, “This is how Jesus Christ came to be born”.
Our Gospel covers relationship breakdown, divine communication through angels and dreams and the announcement of the birth of Jesus.
For the Jews of Jesus time an engagement or betrothal was taken very seriously and so, Mary and Joseph being betrothed was a very public commitment and part of a marriage contract. At the time of the betrothal ceremony the husband presents the wife to be, and her father, with the marriage contract. However, one or several years might separate the betrothal from the marriage ceremony itself. We hear today that the betrothal ceremony between Joseph and Mary had already taken place and that they awaited the wedding ceremony. Mary remains at the home of her parents, and Joseph would have visited that household from time to time.
When Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant, he could have demanded that some very harsh laws be applied to her. Instead, he chooses to act discreetly in his plans to break the marriage contract
Joseph was in a very difficult position and must have been agonising over what action to take and the decision which he faced. Josephs decision to divorce Mary “quietly” implies that he did not want to subject her to public disgrace, we see his sensitivity and unselfishness. He didn’t think of himself and his own honour. He thought of Mary and her honour. But then God intervenes, and his decision is changed with a divine message communicated to Joseph by the Angel of the Lord in a dream.
In this reading, Joseph is the central character for Matthew; whereas for Luke it is Mary. Matthew makes it clear that like Mary, who says yes at the time of the Annunciation, it is now Joseph who says yes. After his dream Joseph does as the Angel of the Lord directs. He takes Mary to be his wife and accepts the child as his own.
Joseph and Mary are both cooperative with God’s plan. They are both excellent models for us of what it means to be faithful servants of God.
In the first letter of John, John writes that love is not only given in words and speech, but also in truth and action. This is a great summary of how Joseph shows his love for his family.
We should learn from Mary and Joseph’s example and consider how to show love and kindness as we look to the week ahead with eager anticipation when the identity of the baby child, this wonderous child, the baby Jesus, is revealed.