Dec. 22, 2019

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, 2019

THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY OF JESUS

Readings: 1st- Is. 7:10-14; 2nd- Rom. 1:1-7; Gospel- Matt. 1:18-24

The prophecy of Isaiah seems to be fulfilled in the story of the birth of Jesus, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us” (Is. 7:14). This eighth-century prophecy was given to Ahaz who ruled the kingdom of Judah at the time. Ahaz’s refusal to join the coalition brought tension to the kingdom as he wondered whether his decision was right for Judah. Isaiah then asked him to request for a sign from God to which Ahaz responded, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” Isaiah considered this response hypocritical, the reason why he said, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God?” Therefore, the prophet declared that the Lord would produce the sign himself irrespective of what Ahaz and the people believed, namely, that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah had only to fit into God’s plan.  

Matthew’s gospel gives us a detailed picture of the human origin of Jesus. Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy which traces the ancestry of Jesus from the Old Testament through Abraham. In today’s gospel, we read about Jesus’ immediate family of origin, Mary and Joseph playing key roles in this history of salvation. In Mary, God reveals the meaning of the sign given through the prophet Isaiah. Mary is the virgin who conceives her child in a mysterious way. She is betrothed to the young man named Joseph. 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph form the greatest bond in humanity’s family story. Their virtues bear eloquent testimony to the reality of God’s presence for which they are called the Holy Family. They bring to the picture the profundity of the name of Jesus, “Emmanuel, God is with us.” But they had their struggles. They lived with their challenges. They faced conflicts within their family life. 

Mary faced several inconveniences as a young pregnant lady. Sociologically, she might have had her self-esteem threatened because of the nature of her pregnancy, quite a complicated case. Being a virtuous woman and becoming pregnant in her parents’ house aren’t compatible. Since the Jewish community is close-knit, it is possible that she would imagine that her people would be thinking about her in a negative way. In terms of convenience, Mary didn’t bother about her personal comfort. She didn’t worry about what the pregnancy would prevent her from achieving. She only desired to please God and to bring forth the baby according to God’s plan.

Joseph, her husband, was a devout man. He discovered that his wife was pregnant. Joseph knew that he was not responsible for the pregnancy, so, he decided to divorce her. Joseph took a more compassionate approach, intending to send Mary away quietly in order to save her from disgrace. While Joseph contemplated this action, he had a dream. The angel of the Lord appeared to him with a different plan. Scripture says, “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” (Matt. 1:19-21). This marked the turning point in Joseph’s life and in the history of humanity. 

Let us just stay on how this couple dealt with their conflicts in this gospel passage. Mary was about to be misrepresented by Joseph because of the nature of her pregnancy. Scripture says, “before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” That means she was found to be pregnant outside of her marriage. That’s serious under the Jewish custom. Joseph was in the position to disgrace Mary. Joseph would have acted without listening to the Angel. It was already his plan, to divorce her before the angel appeared to him in a dream, for “such was his intention.” But I’m sure Mary prayed hard to be heard and understood by Joseph at that time. She knew she was innocent. However, Joseph was not abusive to his wife despite that she was pregnant in a manner that wasn’t clear to him. He only decided to divorce her quietly. Joseph wanted to save her face. 

Importantly, Joseph and Mary listened to the voice of God. As a couple, they were open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Mary was to conceive by the Holy Spirit. She was available to do God’s will. Joseph had a dream during which the angel spoke to him to take Mary in as his wife. He changed his plan and did not divorce her. How many times in your family’s challenging moments do you listen to God’s voice? How many times do you hear him speak to you? How many times do you change the course of your actions because of divine intervention? How often do you let the Holy Spirit decide for you in your marriage? Are you experiencing conflicts in your marriage? How do you try to resolve them? God’s voice or your voice? Which one speaks louder? Does your temperament make you take impulsive actions against your spouse? Are you abusive verbally because of what your spouse has done wrong? Has compassion been thrown out of the window in your relationship? Do you treat your spouse in a gentle manner like Joseph? Do you save her from embarrassment? Do you protect her from public disgrace? 

Joseph and Mary teach us great lessons today in our families and marriages. There will always be conflicts, confusion, challenges, and disappointments. Things will not always go our way, and sometimes we cannot even change them. God invites us to listen. He is present, “Emmanuel, God is with us.” God will be with you if you listen. He is the one who can re-route the direction, the one who takes you to the proper exit. He is the one who provides the solution. He wants you to play into his plan. Only a gentle heart like Joseph can hear him.