Gospel for Sunday, December 18: Matthew 1: 18-24
IV Sunday of Advent A
18Thus was Jesus Christ begotten: his mother Mary, being betrothed to Joseph, before they went to live together found herself pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph her husband, because he was a righteous man and did not want to accuse her publicly, thought of repudiating her in secret. 20While he was considering these things, however, behold, an 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, with you. For the child that is begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit; 21she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place so that what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son: to him shall be given the name Emmanuel, which means God with us.” 24When he awoke from sleep, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his bride with him.
Mt 1: 18-24
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
After introducing us to the figure of John the Baptist, the Advent season concludes by placing Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, in our meditation. Already in other years we had done exegesis of today’s biblical passage. Today we want to be guided by some passages from the Apostolic Letter “Patris corde” that Pope Francis wanted to write in 2020 precisely about St. Joseph:
“After Mary, Mother of God, no Saint occupies as much space in the pontifical Magisterium as Joseph, her husband. My Predecessors have deepened the message contained in the few facts handed down by the Gospels to further highlight his central role in the history of salvation: Blessed Pius IX declared him the “Patron of the Catholic Church,” Venerable Pius XII presented him as the “Patron of Workers,” and St. John Paul II as the “Guardian of the Redeemer.” The people invoke him as the “patron of the good death…”
The people’s trust in St. Joseph is summed up in the expression “Ite ad Ioseph,” which refers to the time of famine in Egypt when the people asked Pharaoh for bread and he replied, “Go to Joseph; do what he will tell you” (Gen. 41:55). This was Joseph son of Jacob, who was sold out of envy by his brothers (cf. Gn 37:11-28) and who – according to the biblical narrative – later became vice-king of Egypt (cf. Gn 41:41-44).
As a descendant of David (cf. Mt. 1:16, 20), from whose root Jesus was to sprout according to the promise made to David by the prophet Nathan (cf. 2 Sam. 7), and as the husband of Mary of Nazareth, St. Joseph is the hinge that connects the Old and New Testaments…
Through Joseph’s distress, too, comes God’s will, his story, his plan. Joseph teaches us that having faith in God also includes believing that He can work even through our fears, our frailties, our weakness. And he teaches us that in the midst of the storms of life, we should not be afraid to leave the helm of our boat to God. Sometimes we would like to control everything, but He always has a bigger look….
Similarly to what God did with Mary when He manifested His plan of salvation to her, so also to Joseph He revealed His plans; and He did so through dreams, which in the Bible, as among all ancient peoples, were regarded as one of the means by which God manifests His will.
Joseph is greatly distressed before Mary’s incomprehensible pregnancy: he does not want to “accuse her publicly” but decides to “repudiate her in secret” (Mt 1:19). In the first dream the angel helps him resolve his grave dilemma: “Do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, with you. For the child that is begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20-21). His response was immediate: “When he arose from sleep, he did as the angel had commanded him” (Mt 1:24). With obedience he overcame his drama and saved Mary.
Joseph welcomed Mary without putting conditions beforehand. He trusts the angel’s words. The nobility of his heart makes him subordinate to charity what he has learned by law; and today, in this world in which psychological, verbal and physical violence on women is evident, Joseph presents himself as a figure of a respectful, delicate man who, although he does not possess all the information, makes up his mind for Mary’s reputation, dignity and life. And in his doubt about how best to act, God helped him choose by illuminating his judgment.
So many times in our lives, events happen that we do not understand the meaning of. Our first reaction is often one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph leaves aside his reasoning to make room for what happens, and no matter how mysterious it may appear to his eyes, he accepts it, takes responsibility for it and reconciles with his own story. If we do not reconcile with our own story, we will not even be able to take the next step, because we will always remain hostage to our own expectations and consequent disappointments.
As God told our saint, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid” (Mt. 1:20), he seems to repeat to us as well, “Do not be afraid!” We need to lay down anger and disappointment and make room, without any worldly resignation but with hope-filled fortitude, for that which we did not choose and yet exists. Embracing life in this way introduces us to hidden meaning. The life of each of us can miraculously restart if we find the courage to live it according to what the Gospel shows us. And it doesn’t matter if by now everything seems to have taken a wrong turn and some things are now irreversible. God can make flowers sprout among the rocks….
In the second dream the angel orders Joseph, “Arise, take the child and his mother with you, flee to Egypt and stay there until I warn you: for Herod wants to seek the child in order to kill him” (Mt 2:13). Joseph did not hesitate to obey, without questioning the difficulties he would face (Mt 2:14-15).
In Egypt Joseph, with confidence and patience, waited for the promised warning from the angel to return to his country. As soon as the divine messenger, in a third dream, after informing him that those who were trying to kill the child were dead, ordered him to get up, take the child and his mother with him and return to the land of Israel (cf. Mt 2:19-20), he once again obeyed without hesitation (Mt 2:21).
But on the return journey, “when he learned that Archelaus reigned in Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Warned then in a dream-and this is the fourth time it has happened-he withdrew to the region of Galilee and went to dwell in a town called Nazareth” (Mt. 2:22-23)…
Many times, reading the “Gospels of infancy,” we are left wondering why God did not intervene directly and clearly. But God intervenes through events and persons. Joseph is the man through whom God takes care of the beginnings of the history of redemption. He is the real “miracle” by which God saves the Child and his mother. Heaven intervenes by trusting this man’s creative courage (cf. Lk 2:6-7; Mt 2:13-14)…. We must always ask ourselves whether we are protecting with all our might Jesus and Mary, who are mysteriously entrusted to our responsibility, our care, our custody. The Son of the Almighty comes into the world assuming a condition of great weakness. He becomes in need of Joseph to be defended, protected, cared for, raised. God trusts this man, as does Mary, who finds in Joseph the one who not only wants to save her life, but who will always provide for her and the Child…
Joseph’s happiness is not in the logic of self-sacrifice, but of self-giving. Frustration is never perceived in this man, only trust. His persistent silence does not contemplate complaints but always concrete gestures of trust. The world needs fathers; it rejects masters, that is, it rejects those who want to use the other’s possession to fill their own emptiness; it rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, confrontation with oppression, charity with welfarism, strength with destruction. Every true vocation stems from the gift of self, which is the maturation of simple sacrifice.”
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.