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4th Sunday of Advent – A Staggering Trust


“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:18-24).
 
In many ways in this narrative, Joseph assumes a role on our behalf. He was a righteous man, pious and observant. He loved his fiancée and would not disgrace her, even when he had been humiliated by the turn of events. In a dream, he was asked to trust and to believe in the improbable.
 
We don’t actually see Joseph’s reaction, but accounts of the birth narrative often present Joseph as angry, bewildered, and hurt. His pride had been wounded and his role as a husband and father had been usurped. In this light, the action he ultimately takes demonstrates a staggering trust. He did as the dream-angel commanded and took Mary home as his wife. Without the dream, Joseph would have divorced Mary out of shame for the sin of adultery he thought she bore in her womb. And yet this very child, the angel explained, would be the vehicle for forgiving sin among all of Joseph’s people.
 
The angel does not predict a revolution in flames. The angel makes prophecy personal—Joseph is asked to amend his righteousness with an action so illogical and difficult that he was no longer sure who he was. And yet, like John, Joseph is a crucial stone in paving the way, a man who shoulders a personal burden to help his people prepare. Joseph is our representative of trust. Of course Mary would have given birth after a divorce. Joseph plays a vital role in keeping with the Advent focus on believing or accepting what is painful and difficult while having faith in a promise of mercy and redemption.
 
– How have you been asked by God to go against your initial instincts?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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