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The Fourth Sunday of Advent

IS 7:10-14; PS 24:1-6; ROM 1:1-7; MT 1:18-24

December 18, 2013

Theme: "Dare to Believe in the Impossible"

Birth announcements are usually good news, and therefore they are joyful! Family members and friends would send greetings and best wishes to the new parents. At "baby showers," women would gather to celebrate and give gifts to the expectant mother. Typical gifts related to babies include diapers, blankets, baby bottles, and toys. However, in this Sunday's gospel reading, Matthew's version of Jesus' birth announcement is noticeably stark and somber. It is filled with suspense and portends a possibly tragic outcome.

Matthew tells us that Mary, a young unmarried woman who was betrothed to Joseph, suddenly found herself pregnant. Joseph was deeply wounded and felt betrayed, for Mary's pregnancy was clearly an act of infidelity. He was confused and wondered what to do. In the New Testament times, a betrothed couple was considered to be legally married. During the interim period, marital intercourse was prohibited and considered adultery.

Though Joseph and Mary had not lived together, a formal divorce was required to nullify the betrothal. By law, Joseph was entitled to expose Mary, causing her to undergo a horrific ordeal as punishment (Num 5:11-31). But Joseph was an honorable and a compassionate man, determining to divorce her quietly. Perhaps Joseph hoped that the rightful father would seize the opportunity to claim the child and take Mary into his home. In any case, Joseph chose a lenient course of action that was both honorable and just.

But God's will and purpose were revealed to Joseph in a dream, and he dared to believe in what was humanly impossible to comprehend. Although his life had been turned upside down, Joseph put aside his own confusion and hurt. Despite humiliation and embarrassment, Joseph trusted in God by taking Mary "into his home" to finalize the Jewish marriage contract. Furthermore, by naming the child "Jesus," which in Hebrew, Jehoshua, means "YHWH is salvation," Joseph acknowledged the child as his legal son. Joseph took an incredible risk and an extraordinary leap of faith to believe that this child Jesus could be the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, the Emmanuel - "God with us."

The final days of Advent preparations are upon us! The birth announcement of Jesus has been proclaimed. We have only a brief time to make the last minute preparations for the birth of our Savior. Despite hectic schedules and last minute shopping, we are invited to be still in prayer and in joyful celebration to welcome the child Jesus into our homes and claim him as our very own. Despite confusion and perhaps even doubt, we are encouraged to place all our trust and hope in the infant Jesus who saves and fulfills humanity's hopes and dreams. The challenge is to trust and believe even when the situation is seemingly impossible.

van Thanh Nguyen, SVD
Associate Professor of New Testament Studies

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