23 December 2007, Fourth Sunday of Advent

Is 7:10-14; Rm 1:1-7; Mt 1:18-24

Today, we are celebrating the last Sunday of Advent and the readings take us to the immediate preparation of the coming of the Lord.  For the past three weeks we prepared ourselves prayerfully for his arrival.  This Sunday the Church will remind us of his coming and that the Saviour, king of peace will come into the world.

We have the first reading from Prophet Isaiah. King Ahaz  is told by the prophet to ask for a sign from God.  But Ahaz refuses to ask God for the sign. He is afraid since he has sacrificed his only son to the pagan gods for his own personal survival. The dynasty is in danger of its extinction. The prophet then comes to the king to make him aware of his sin and to reconcile with God. Now the Lord gives him the sign: ‘a young woman will conceive and bear a son and he will be the saviour for Israel.’  True to the prophesy, his young wife bears him a son and now there is no danger of his dynasty coming to an end.

Today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, descended from King David as prophesied through Isaiah. This affirmation is also found in the Gospel of Matthew.  Further, Jesus is declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.

Today’s Reading from the Gospel of Matthew provides us with the circumstances surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus. When Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. When reference is made to Mary being engaged to Joseph, it means that the marriage contract had been drawn up between Joseph, or his parents, and the parents of Mary. According to the Jewish custom, the marriage did not take place until such time as the groom had taken the bride into his house. The Gospel calls him a just man, meaning the observer of the law. It really meant that he could have followed the law and accordingly could have punished Mary. But he wishes to withdraw quietly without making the event public.

Then Joseph has a dream in which, the angel of the Lord tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. The angel then tells Joseph that the Son of Mary should be called Jesus because He will save His people. When studying the origin and development of the name Jesus, it is learned that it means “Yahweh is salvation.”

Here we see the obedience of Joseph. The Gospel says “When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.” We have in Joseph total obedience and submission to the will of God.

We now turn to Mary.  She was told at the annunciation, nothing is impossible to God. Even Elizabeth in her old age could get a child. He could work miracles with any one.

Mary had to face an enormous challenge to her faith and trust in God and to the faith of her family and Joseph, the man she chose to marry.  She was asked to assume a burden of tremendous responsibility. It had never been heard of before that a child could be born without a natural father. Mary was asked to accept this miraculous exception to the laws of nature. That required faith and trust in God and in his promises. Second, Mary was not yet married. Pregnancy outside of wedlock was not tolerated in those days. Mary was only espoused to Joseph, and such an engagement had to last for a whole year. She was asked to assume a great risk. She could have been rejected by Joseph, by her family, by all her own people. Mary knew that Joseph and her family would not understand without revelation from God. She nonetheless believed and trusted in God’s promises.

We have the combination of two persons filled with faith, persons who placed their total trust in God. They could understand the ways of the Lord and live accordingly. Mary is a person of faith with her yes to God. She is the handmaid of the Lord. Joseph, a just and God-fearing man, did not wish to embarrass or punish his espoused wife, Mary when he discovered that she was pregnant.  To all appearances she had broken their solemn pledge to be faithful and chaste to one another. Joseph, no doubt took this troubling matter to God in prayer.  He was not hasty to judge or to react with hurt and anger.  God rewarded him not only with guidance and consolation, but with the divine assurance that he had indeed called Joseph to be the husband of Mary and to assume a mission that would require the utmost faith, confidence, and trust in Almighty God.  Joseph believed in the divine message to take Mary as his wife and to accept the child in her womb as the promised Messiah. Like Mary, Joseph is a model of faith for us. He is a faithful witness and servant of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Are we ready to believe in the promises of God, even when faced with perplexing circumstances and what seems like insurmountable problems?  God has not left us alone, but has brought us his only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Let us celebrate Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, with joyful hearts and let us renew our faith and hope in God and in his redeeming work.


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