4th Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 7:10-14    Romans 1:1-7   Matthew 1:18-24

Immaculate ConceptionThe most important role of each of the Evangelists was to portray the person and the mission of Jesus.  Saint Matthew writes in such a way as to reach out in appeal to the Jewish mind to accept that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament hopes and visions.  He wrote as a teacher in the fashion of the Jewish scribes.  His teaching showed how the New Testament was the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew’s gospel begins with a very formal and solemn Genealogy.  This genealogy leads us into what we ponder on this 4th Sunday of Advent.  It seems that the predictions of the past, a family history and Jewish prophesy have come to pass.  Our first Reading from Isaiah is clear - ‘The Maiden is with Child’ (Is 7:12).  This focuses us on all the realities of Advent and of the Incarnation; new life, parenthood, family relationships. The God of heaven is coming to Earth.  He is to be ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God-is-with-us’

The familiar story of the Annunciation to Mary, as recounted by Saint Luke, is replaced in today’s Gospel by a sort of ‘annunciation’ to Joseph.  The family of Nazareth is born!The whole point of this story of Joseph is that Joseph is not the genealogical father of Jesus, but adopts Jesus into the line of David, so that the prophecy might be fulfilled.  At first Joseph is hesitant, presumably because he feels unworthy to acknowledge the child as his own or to bond with Mary who is ‘with child by the Holy Spirit’.  The angel insists and encourages Joseph – ‘Do not be afraid’. As soon as the child is born it is Joseph who gives Him his name. 

This is the prerogative of the father.  (We recall how Zachary, who was dumb, was asked to write the name he wished to give to John the Baptist).  By doing this, Joseph takes the child as his own.

We hear very little more of Joseph in the Gospels but we can learn so much from what we do know.  Joseph showed great courage and blind trust in God by the manner in which he responded to the prompting of his dream.  Indeed it must have been a great joy to have Jesus as a son.  But it was also a great responsibility to honour the trust put in him to protect and guide the ‘God boy’ with Mary.

So often in the scriptures we hear Jesus refer to God as ‘Father’.  His concept and understanding of what a father would be was learned at the home of Nazareth.  Joseph was surely the perfect ideal of a loving father.

This same Joseph is put before us during this time of Advent, not just as the link to the House of David, but as a model of openness to God’s plans.

We have been journeying through Advent watching, waiting and wondering. Our watching means being alert to the signs and promptings of the Lord to each one of us.  Joseph’s openness to what the Lord might call him to do meant that even in his dreams he recognised the Lord’s voice and understood the Lord’s will for him.  ‘So, when Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took Mary, his wife to his home’.