Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A- Rev Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-6; Rom 1:1-7 and Matt 1:18-24
Examples of the Righteous Joseph
Our reflections these past Sundays of Advent have consistently focused on the advantages of Hope in our faith journeys rather than Despair. They addressed the need for our repentance, being patience with ourselves and joyfully expecting Christ the Messiah at Christmas and beyond. Israel’s prophets including Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:1-10; 35:1-6; 61; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Habakkuk and John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-11) and even our friend St. Paul, and Apostle of the Gentiles also bore extensive testimony to Christ Jesus, our expected Messiah. Mary our Mother Mary, the Mother of the Church, a sign of hope, a model faith and an ideal disciple, particularly on the Solemnity of the Immaculate conception with her “Yes to God” (Luke 1:38) exemplified for us by words and deeds the necessity of remaining open to the Will and Grace of God. She taught us how to seek Jesus and Jesus’ values consistently in our lives as Christians and demonstrated for us how to understand “Immanuel’s prophecy” even in times of our personal spiritual, physical and moral wars. Sin and disobedience separate us from God’s presence, whereas salvation from sin results in God’s continuous presence with us in Jesus. We are called to be Josephs!
During the time of Isaiah in the 8th century B.C.E., as narrated by today’s first Bible reading (Isa 7:10-14), the same openness for signs and designs of God were expected of King Ahaz and those Judeans who were under real threats of annihilation by the Syro-Ephramite,enemy- coalitions under Kings Rezin and Pekah with Assyrians war lords under Tiglath –Pileser (745-727 B.C.E. )
Like our Mother Mary and John the Baptist, Isaiah wanted Ahaz and Judah to be convinced of the goodness, blessings and abiding presence of God with us even in difficult times. Isaiah predicted that a young woman shall conceive a child who shall be name at birth- la wnm[ =Immanuel= God is with us (Isa 7:14). And if God is with us, Ahaz was advised not to “be afraid” to no avail. He would not listen to Isaiah with a consequent impoverishment of Judah
In the contrary, Joseph in today’s Gospel (Matt 1:18-24), like Mary is able not only to overcome fear, he is able to listen, changes his intention to divorce Mary and opens up to the will and the promises of God, by taking Mary his wife home, the Mother of Christ, the Son of God, who is with us (Matt 1:23).
Based on the OT background (Gen 16:11-12; 17:19; 1 Chr 2–3; 22:9-10; Ruth 4:18-22 ) Paul in the Second reading (Rom 1:1-7) and Evangelist Mathew in the Gospel (Matt 1:18-24), with its Jewish flavor of Immanuel’s Prophecy (Isa 7:14) explains the theology and the miraculous birth and origin of Jesus (God saves) and the exemplary experiences of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus. In the Jewish law betrothal, sometimes as it is still practiced in some African cultures, was much more than our contemporary engagement. It was a binding contract with legal consequences (Deut 22:21-27). Even though the young woman continues to live with her parents the man remain the husband without sexual intercourse with her until marriage ceremony was completed (cf Matt 25:1-13). In Joseph’s case Mary was found to be with a child of the Holy Spirit before such a customary wedding ceremony (Matt 1:20; Lk 1:35). The child was to be named Jesus= YHWH’s saves. In as much as the Matthean infancy narratives, a theological vehicle were written to make Jesus’ origin and identity intelligible against the background of the fulfillment of the OT expectations- supplying a transition from OT to the Gospel and the Christological preaching of the church, I thought as followers of Christ, and as a parish community, it is worth meditating upon and actualizing the character of Joseph- his confusion, trust, his subsequent enlightenment and enthusiastic acceptance of the will of God. What are those fears and confusions that challenge your trust in God? Or if I may ask, have you ever felt like Joseph in your faith journeys?
Lessons from these Bible Readings I believe are sufficient unto all of us- Daddy, Mummy and our Children. I am sure whatever our status and profession in life is we have once being children in one way or the other. None of our children wants to be like Ahaz refusing to listen to our parents, our teachers and spiritual leaders. We don’t want to talk back to our parents, nor disrespect them. We want to obey them in faith and truths and visit them in the nursing homes hospices and hospital or to open up for the grace of God through the prophets and the angels like Joseph, even in moments of uncertainties.
As we all know what is said of Joseph in our Liturgy today could be said of Mary. Both are opened to the voices of God and the Angels. Both are examples of good couples and good parenting. Joseph did all that the Angel had told him (Matt 1:24) and Mary in the reading of the Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception was able to say, “behold I am the hand maid of the Lord be it done to me according to your Words (Lk 1:38).
In particular, Joseph is also an example of a good and caring and love husband and true disciple of Christ. He is described as “righteous man” observing the laws and in good relationship with God (Matt 1:19). He is genuinely and constructively quiet. Joseph is not lousy nor a random talkative. He is a descent man conscious of his royal origin of the tribe of David. He is very forgiving, discerning of every situation in prayers no matter how complex and confusing they may be. Joseph will never do anything to bring shame or to embarrass anyone especially the wife Mary and Christ whom we are anticipating at Christmas. He loves Mary and the child Jesus and understood what his vocation was as the head of the Holy Family. I am sure none of our men here have ever done things that will embarrass their loving wives and children and even their next door or office neighbors or a member of your faith community.
May Mary and Joseph continue to be models and our examples of faith and trust in God as we encounter Christ, the son of God, the Light of world and the Prince of peace at Christmas.
Peace be with you!