4th Sunday of Advent (A)
In October of 1986, my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. That year the Polansky house was filled with celebrations. I graduated from college and I was the first among my Dad’s nieces and nephews to accomplish that goal. My brother, Ed, graduated from high school, another Bishop Eustace grad, and was headed to Rider College ... now Rider University. And my little sister, Kathy, graduated from eighth grade and was about to make her own mark on Bishop Eustace. So, it was a year of celebrating, but my siblings and I did not have the resources to celebrate their anniversary properly. We decided in 1991, five years later, to plan a surprise 30th wedding anniversary party for them. If you have ever tried to coordinate a surprise party for someone, you know how much planning it takes and how much cooperation you need from numerous people to pull it off. The amazing thing is we were able to do it. My Mom and Dad had no clue. They thought they were going to a party for someone else. Family, neighbors, and friends all played along and kept it secret. When the day arrived, it came as a total surprise for Mom and Dad.
Entrance Antiphon: Is 45:8 — “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.”
First Reading: Is 7:10-14 — “Behold, the virgin shall conceive.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 — “Let the Lord enter; He is the King of Glory.”
Second Reading: Rom 1:1-7 — “Jesus Christ, descended from David, is the Son of God.”
Alleluia: Mt 1:23 — “Alleluia, alleluia. The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Mt 1:18-24 — “Jesus will be born of Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, a son of David.”
Communion Antiphon: Is 7:14 — “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son; and His name will be called Emmanuel.”
I relate that story on this fourth Sunday of Advent for a reason. Most of us are probably putting the finishing touches on preparations for Wednesday. We all know what’s coming ... or do we? The Incarnation ... the arrival of the Christ child ... was and is … a surprise that God had in store for our world. It seems that no one had an inkling of what was to come. Joseph and Mary are the principal coordinators, and their cooperation was paramount.
In 2013, Pope Francis added the name of Saint Joseph to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV. Pope Francis cited Saint Joseph as a model of kindness and humility and ordinary, simple virtues. “Through these virtues, this just man, caring most lovingly for the Mother of God and happily dedicating himself to the upbringing of Jesus Christ, was placed over God the Father’s most precious treasures.”
As we near Christmas, we focus our attention on the mystery of the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, “God-is-with-us.” We are called to respond in faith to something that surpasses human understanding.
Saint Matthew’s Gospel is the account that goes into the greatest detail on the reaction of Joseph to Mary’s experience of the Annunciation. What we heard in this weekend’s Gospel passage could be called Joseph’s annunciation. Just as Mary had the option to accept or to reject God’s offer at the Annunciation, today the mission is outlined for Joseph. It is his to accept or reject. And for him, there are actually several parts to consider.
Mission One … React in Faith. Joseph has been told … probably by Mary herself … of the visit by the angel and her own decision to offer her fiat and move forward in faith. Now Joseph has his own visit by an angel in a dream and knows he is being given the opportunity to offer a fiat of his own. The surprise plan is being unveiled. Joseph is to usher the Child into the Israelite community. He will take the Child in … give Him a name … and be responsible for His upbringing. Throughout Advent, we have heard prophecies and promises that are unveiling the surprise plan to us. The Coming of God is almost upon us. Ask yourselves, do you have Joseph’s respect for the plan and faith in this Coming of God as man?
Mission Two … To Accept and Welcome the Living Jesus. Joseph was faced with a serious problem. His betrothed was expecting a baby, and Joseph was not the father. His reaction was to treat Mary with as much respect and kindness as possible. When Joseph’s engagement to Mary takes an unexpected turn, he does what many of us might do ... He makes plans for a discreet exit. When God explained the situation in a dream, Joseph obeyed. Joseph is presented as someone open to God’s will … a just man … someone in tune with God. Through the angel’s message in his dream, Joseph learns that he is not only being asked to stay, but he is also being asked to be accepting and welcoming. Jesus is present to us in the Word and in the Sacraments. It isn’t any more difficult for us to believe in that than it was for Joseph to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Joseph accepts what is told to him and makes plans to move on in faith as he has seen Mary do. Now we have the example of both Mary and Joseph to lead us. And so … your second consideration as December 25th approaches … Ask yourselves this. Can you say that your faith has increased during this Advent season? Are you ready to accept what Jesus brings to your life and move on in faith?
Mission Three … To Serve the Living Jesus. Joseph’s life was not simplified by taking on the challenge of bringing Jesus into his home. Parenting is a form of service ... and as any parent knows ... it brings both joy and heartache. Living a life of service to Mary and Jesus becomes Joseph’s vocation. His cooperation helps to make the Incarnation surprise a reality. In our Advent preparations we should have arrived at a sense of how we fit in … of how important our cooperation is in the bringing of Christ to birth. How do we do that? Here’s your third consideration. People are still waiting to be “surprised” by kindness … people are still waiting to be “surprised” by an offering of our time … people are still waiting to be “surprised” by a contribution of our talents and our gifts.
Joseph is described as a “righteous man” in this weekend’s Gospel. He was not a sideliner. Without his conscious choices and decisions, the Christmas story, as we know it would have had a completely different outcome. Joseph’s annunciation made his mission clear to him. Our particular missions need to be faith-filled acceptance of and service to Jesus so that Incarnation surprise lives on.
This Christmas, may we have the eyes of faith that Joseph had, to see beyond appearances to the presence of God-is-with-us … Emmanuel. May that vision give us true Christmas joy and move us to a life of true Christmas love.
In the signs of bread and wine, we believe Jesus to be really present as our sacrifice and our food. Let us proclaim with hearts and voices our joyful acceptance of the mystery of faith. As we surround this altar, let’s gather our Advent hopes and dreams to add to our faith in the mystery of this greatest gift and sacrifice of love ... the Eucharist.