HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Readings: Is. 7:10-14/Rom. 1:1-7
Gospel: Mt. 1:18-24
The opening lines of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” give a synopsis of the entire play. “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where they are seen. From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hand unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life. Who’s misadventured, piteous overthrows, doth with their death buried thy parent’s strife.” After that opening, the story develops into what has become the greatest play ever written. It seems that we like to know what is going to happen before it happens. It gives us the sense of belonging to the “inside group.” Likewise, when we know a moment of history, yet not know either story, we will watch a portrayal of it either on TV or at the movies to relive those moments in our mind. For example, a few years ago the movie “Apollo 13” relived those moments when three American astronauts almost lost their lives while on their way to the moon. While we all know that they returned safely to earth, the drama during these many days were so compelling that it became the most popular movie that year.
Although we know these moments, we always like to live them again and again. In that way we can understand why we are here today because of the actions that we remembered from yesterday. In the Gospel proclaimed, we get the Story of Christmas from St. Matthew. While Christmas is not for another week, we get a glimpse into a moment that, those early Christians who heard it, would sit down and be transfixed in the moment. Since Matthew’s gospel is written for the benefit of the Jewish converts, they knew the dangers both Mary and Joseph work in if the priests and elders knew that she had become pregnant before their marriage.
Under Jewish law, marriage was done in two steps. The first step was the formal betrothal that was done before witnesses and became legally binding. The second step was the transfer of the bride from her home to the home of her husband one year later. It was during this timeframe that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Joseph, being a devout Jew and a student of the Law, was ready to divorce her quietly in order to prevent any shame on her; or, possibly, even death. He would be in the right, according to the Law, and was ready to do so. But one night, while he was sleeping, Joseph was told in a dream the child Mary was carrying would be the Savior of the world. Matthew’s version of the Nativity was showing how the law helped the Jewish people in finding the Messiah. But to truly know the Messiah, just understanding the Law is not enough. Sometimes, doing the will of God transcends obeying the Law of God.
The Gospel’s focus on St. Joseph should not be viewed as an afterthought in salvation history. Without Joseph, there would not even be a Christmas Story. Mary would have been sent away by her parents to have her child alone. Joseph would have found someone else to marry and have a family. Jesus probably would have been shunned because of his illegitimacy. If Jesus was to convince others that he was the Messiah-not only in heaven but also on earth-he HAD to be part of the bloodline of King David. Joseph was to be the key to Jesus’s legitimacy on earth so his message can prove his legitimacy in heaven.
We can also look at the acceptance of God’s message by Mary and Joseph as a sign of redemption for the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and gave into eating from the Tree of Knowledge: The fruit that God told them not to eat. She in turn gave some to Adam to eat. By not listening to the voice of God, Adam and Eve were thrown out of Eden never to return. God promised Eve that he would send someone who would “strike at the heel” of the devil.
God’s call to Mary was the start of that process of redemption. Mary was the “New Eve” that will produce “the New Adam.” Joseph becomes the means by which the new Adam and Eve can come into the world. In my view, Joseph can be seen as the “fruit” by which Jesus and Mary would partake so they can begin the path back to salvation. It is through Joseph that redemption begins and it is from Joseph that we are given the example to understand love Jesus the Christ; the Savior of the world.
The example of Faith that Joseph gives to us begins with his belief in a Messiah that is to come. He would’ve heard the prophet Isaiah in his time like we did in the first reading today. The point that Isaiah made to the crowd was how their Messiah-their deliverer-would come: “a virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Their desire for a Messiah was so that they would be delivered from earthly oppressor and be a free people once again. Joseph heard this passage and took it to heart as he also desired to be free from those who oppressed him in his lifetime.
This perspective was how Paul writes to the church in Rome that all “have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Paul understood the writings of Isaiah and shared that message in his ministry: the message that Jesus was and is the fulfillment of that message. In a sense, Paul restored the ministry of Joseph in bringing Jesus into the world.
By our baptism, we have been charged with continuing the ministry of not only Paul but of Joseph as well. It is our duty to bring Jesus into the world of which we are a part. Many times we are successful; many times we are not. Yet our mission remains the same. It is now our time to bring Jesus into the world. Come, let us adore him.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK
Questions for Reflection:
- How do you view the life of St. Joseph in the story of salvation?
- What do you think would happen had not St. Joseph taken the Blessed
Virgin Mary into his home?
- This final scene in “Romeo and Juliet” starts with “A gloomy peace
this morning with it brings; the sun, in its sorrow, will not show his head.” How does the Story of Christmas conquer this sentiment?