The Gospel for December 18th, 2016: “The Birth of Jesus”
Reflection: Saint Joseph, the Quiet, Obedient Christian
For the fourth Sunday of Advent, the arrival of our Lord nears with this reading about His birth. In this passage, I am struck by the fact that our Savior’s birth into a loving family is made possible by Joseph’s quiet obedience in the face of God’s surprising and challenging plans for him. I imagine Joseph was heart-broken from perceived betrayal when he discovered Mary was pregnant with a child that was not his, perhaps enraged. We are told his reaction was “righteous” (19) both legally and morally. By this I mean, on the one hand, he will not marry a woman who appears to have broken the law by having relations with another man; and on the other, he will not expose her shame so that she will be punished by stoning. In short his response is thoroughly Christ-like, showing absolute firmness of faith, loving compassion for others, and complete disregard for his own desires and fears. This decision must have cost him a tremendous emotional toll.
On the heels of this turmoil, Joseph is visited by an angel in his sleep with unbelievable news and a shocking command from God. Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit and the promised Messiah from the Father; Joseph must take Mary back as his wife and raise the Savior-child as his own (20-22)! His reaction in the midst of an emotional roller-coaster ride? Matthew simply reports, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus” (24-25). God has never asked so much of me, and yet I frequently bristle at His requests and protest His asking. Not Joseph. He quietly obeys.
While this display of faith wins my admiration for its selflessness, I think I almost missed the most important part of the message. I almost drew the conclusion that Joseph’s virtue is worthy of imitation for its own right. But the goal is not living a life of self-denial for its own sake in some aimless spiritual quest. The goal is to bring Christ into our lives and those of others to experience salvation. We are told through the Prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means ‘God is with us’” (23). Joseph’s reward for obedience is to be with Jesus intimately in the present. Our reward for obedience to the Lord’s call in our own lives is the same. It is an outcome that far surpasses any dream we can imagine for ourselves in its everlasting peace and joy. I pray that one fruit of our Advent preparation may be a renewed obedience to Christ’s invitation to serve, so that we may welcome Him into our lives right now, as Joseph and Mary did.