Weekly Gospel Reflection—22 December 2013
Matthew 1:18-25: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.
Many years ago, I wrote a monologue about Joseph and performed it for my family one Christmas. For years afterwards, my mother asked me to perform it again but I had lost the script and couldn’t remember it. It saddens me to think that I never got to perform it again for her.
On this last Sunday of Advent, the story before us is the birth of Jesus, but it’s really about Joseph. And it’s about how G_d disrupts one’s life to open one up for the new way in which G_d is coming into the world.
According to the story, Joseph is a “righteous man.” That means he followed the Law of Moses to the best of his ability. He was a good man. A noble man. As such, he didn’t want to get Mary into trouble by publicly calling off their engagement. Think about it. If he openly calls off their engagement, the reason would be discovered. And that reason, being pregnant without a husband, would’ve probably gotten her killed. So, he was going to do the honorable thing—the loving thing—and call it off quietly.
I mean, who would blame him? His fiancé claimed to be impregnated by Yahweh! She tells him some cockamamie story about an angel appearing to her and telling her she’s going to become the Mother of G_d. The Mother of G_d! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Can you imagine hearing that story? How would you react? I don’t think he believed her (who would) but he obviously cared about her. I’m sure he needed time to think.
Mulling it over, he decides to call off the engagement quietly. But before he can tell Mary about his decision, he has his own visitation from a messenger of Yahweh. The messenger confirms Mary’s story and tells Joseph the child will “save his people from their sins.”
That’s a little different information than Mary got. Mary was told that her child would be a king and that there would be “no end to his kingdom” (Luke 1.26-38). I’m sure the two can be reconciled. I mean, a king is suppose to save his people. That’s one of his jobs. In the context of becoming a king in an occupied realm, though...that would be tricky. How would that happen?
But the messenger didn’t say that the child would save Israel from Roman oppression. No. The messenger said the child would save the people “from their sins.” What the heck is that supposed to mean? There we priests, the Law, and the Temple for that. What was this child going to do? I’m sure Joseph had a lot of questions. But one thing was sure—Mary was telling the truth. Waking from his dream, he runs to Mary and tells her everything that happened. The two were married and when the child was born, they named him “Jesus,” just as the messenger requested (or was that supposed to be “Emmanuel”?).
I know a lot of things have been written about Mary—the supposed eternal virgin (which the dogma clearly started because sex is seen as “dirty” or “earthly” and, G_d knows that Mary would never do anything like that. What rubbish.). But what about Joseph? We don’t much about him at all. What must it have been like raising a son that you knew was supposed to be (somehow) the “Son of G_d”? What kind of pressure would that have been? How would one deal with that? What did he do about it? What did he teach him?
All good questions but no real answers. Oh, there’ve been plenty of assumptions, but no one knows for certain. Both movies The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ shows Joseph teaching Jesus how to be a carpenter with the latter shows Jesus building crosses for the Romans. Again, though, this is speculation. because the writers of the Gospels aren’t telling that story so they didn’t collect them. They all, pretty much, jump from Jesus’ birth to his ministry with scant few details in between.
But, back to Joseph. His situation isn’t that much different than situations some men find themselves in today. We’ve seen the movies enough to know that sometimes, a guy marries a gal and finds out that she’s having someone else’s baby. Lesser men would leave at that moment but stronger men stay and raise that child and love that child like it was their own flesh and blood. I think in the story before us today, we see Joseph become just such a man. I wonder what I would do? What would you do?
Do we see disruptions in life, those things that change the course of our lives, as the coming of G_d? Do we recognize them as G_d coming to us in new and unimagined ways? Perhaps, in moments like that, like Joseph, we need to awaken from our dreams and embrace the new challenges G_d has in store for us.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC