Fourth Sunday of Advent
Fear or faith – these two stances are often gateways to a lesser or greater life. Both stances are deeply imbedded in the human spirit. Fear often presents itself as an insistent, noisy, first reaction to a new situation whilst faith is a quieter force, one that announces itself slowly but with deep conviction. Where fear has the power to freeze us, to halt us in our tracts and to diminish life’s opportunities, faith holds the power to overcome so many obstacles, mysteries, hurts or sufferings and allows us to reach beyond ourselves to realise not only our potential, but often our deepest desires.
Thus it is understandable that in today’s gospel text Matthew presents Joseph as initially ‘afraid’; and to help him overcome his fear God’s word to him – imaged in the medium of ‘dream’ – is a message to not make fear a basis for his judgement, but rather to trust and have faith that God, through the Holy Spirit is active and creative in this moment.
As Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth unfolds, we see that Joseph chooses the way of faith, he puts his trust in God, and not withstanding whatever doubts, questions or puzzlement that might arise from that all too human incapacity to understand the ‘non-rational’ – Joseph chooses to respond to God’s will. “He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
While Matthew highlights Joseph’s actions in the incarnation, (in contrast to Luke who will highlight Mary’s) we do see a consistent theme. Both are somewhat overcome by the announcement and discovery of Jesus’ impending birth, yet both put aside their initial puzzlement or fears and move in the direction of faith and wholehearted response to God.
In the light of faith Joseph and Mary glimpse the overwhelming majesty of God’s plan for us. A plan from all eternity; the Word becoming flesh and entering into deep communion with us – but beginning as all human life does, by being first conceived and formed within the womb.
But God’s plan also has to take shape in the hearts of Joseph and Mary too! Beyond pregnancy and birth lie parenting, witnessing, protecting and forming Jesus in all his growing years. Their trust in God will accompany them all through the years to come. For Jesus, as for each of us, new life announces itself in pregnancy, but is formed in family and through the sacrifice of those who surround us in life. The womb might be our first home on this earth, but the family and community into which we are born must also surround us with love, example, and witness in order to become that place we call ‘home’.
Perhaps this is why Matthew stresses (as will John at the end of his gospel) that Mary finds a ‘home’ with Joseph and his extended family – he took her into his home. Jesus is born of a woman, but will grow to maturity and ‘belong’ within a family and community.
As we prepare for the feast of Christmas, let us open our hearts to create a ‘home’ for the Lord and let us renew our resolve to be ‘family’ to each other in every way possible.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.