Summary: This Advent, take St. Joseph as your model and follow God's will without reserve.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013

Jesus, Mary & Joseph

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, be with me now and at the hour of my death.” Here in this first scene from the Gospel of Matthew, traditionally the oldest of the four Gospels, we hear a story that must have been passed down for at least forty years on Joseph’s side of the Holy Family. Those of us who have grown up with the touching story of the greatest family in human history–Mary tending the hearth, Jesus learning carpentry from his father, Joseph–get a little uncomfortable with this part of the Gospel. From St. Luke we know that Mary spent the first three months of her pregnancy with her cousin, Elizabeth, tending that older relative through the birth of her son, John. Mariam–that was her Hebrew name–returned to Nazareth and disclosed that she was to bear a child, a son, and her tale was pretty incredible. It involved an angelic visitor and a promise that–without a male partner–the Holy Spirit would bring forth from her a boy who would be the King of Israel forever. Joseph knew Mariam to be level-headed and holy, but this story seemed to be way too much for anyone to swallow. So, rather than hold his betrothed wife up to scandal and maybe execution, he resolved to divorce her privately and be done with all of it. Then he gets a messenger from God who confirms absolutely everything Mariam has told him. Joseph takes Mariam to wife–without any marital intimacy–and acknowledges the child as his son, and therefore a descendant of King David.

The story tells us, as St. Luke did, that the child would be named Yeshua–we call Him Jesus–because through this child, God–Yah–would save us–shua–from our sins. The child’s very name is “The Lord saves.” I don’t know what Joseph had expected out of life as he was betrothed to Mary. Likely the best he could have anticipated was to use his carpentry skills to build one of Herod’s palaces or cities, stay out of the way of the Romans, and care for Mary, who for some godly reason had decided to remain a virgin. The events of those months shattered whatever expectations Joseph had. But he listened to Mary and the divine messenger, and, like Mary, attuned his will to the will of God. The outcome, we all know, was the salvation of the world!

So many dreams are shattered by the sledgehammer of reality. Those of us who have seen five or six or seven decades of life have surely seen many crystal-clear expectations become broken glass. The worst of these experiences involve the bad results of our poor choices. A “surefire” investment guts a life savings. A whirlwind romance leaves a broken heart, and perhaps a surprise pregnancy. A thoughtless word leads to a rip in a friendship. A passion for an advanced degree, or a new home, causes a couple to delay and delay and delay having children, until the pain of delay causes a breakup, or the wife’s fertility disappears. Too often our sufferings are a result of our own negligence or self-centered behavior. As the old comic strip said, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

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