Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 19, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
A Love Story
...An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
On this last Sunday of Advent, we sense that something really special is about to happen. Once again the world is reminded that things are not as they appear. For two thousand years ago, Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, visited a young maiden of Nazareth. No one would have predicted that God would soon be living in the womb of a virgin whose name is Mary.
We are not told exactly when Joseph became aware of Mary’s destiny. Luke explains that Mary was betrothed to Joseph at the time of Gabriel’s visit. It is possible if not probable that Mary told him immediately. Today’s gospel reminds us that Joseph is considering how to best protect Mary. After all, he is a just man and unwilling to put Mary to shame. Joseph knows the applicable laws regarding infidelity which could implicate Mary and condemn her to death by stoning. Not only does Joseph believe Mary’s explanation, but he deliberates in his own way how to divorce her quietly.
Christmas is a story; a true story. I want to tell you Joseph’s story; a love story.
Taking Mary by the hand, Joseph looks deep into her eyes and knows in his heart Mary’s destiny.
“Mary,” Joseph speaks in a whisper, as the late winds of March whips the dust around them. “You said Elizabeth is also with child.”
“Yes.” Mary looks down at her garment bulging in the middle as the wind blows about her. “The angel of the Lord told me that she is now six months along,” she says as she looks again into Joseph’s anxious eyes.
“Ok. This is what you must do. No one will think anything of it. It’s been a long time since you’ve visited your kin folk in the hill country of Judea. You will be safe for the moment, and I will have a few days to think about all that is about to happen,” says Joseph.
Mary is no more than a few days into her pregnancy when she visits Elizabeth. But deep within her womb God is becoming flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Mary’s face still shows the late blushes of youth, only now her eyes suggest she is pondering in her heart a deep and growing mystery.
Agreeing with Joseph and trusting his judgment, Mary immediately prepares to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Providentially, a family in Nazareth is going to Judea, too. Mary will travel with them. It will take about four days to make the journey; Mary is happy to have some time away to pray. There is much to pray about.
In the meantime, Joseph spends more time before Jehovah.
“What must I do?” Joseph prays as he begs God for wisdom. “I have lived as Mary has lived. Following you and obeying you with my whole being is all I have ever done; it is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he continues. “Please, Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear my cry.”
Joseph knows in his heart what fate awaits Mary and maybe even him. Who would believe her? Who would believe him? A million questions invade his heart. Everyone of them have the same answer: death.
“I am of the house of David, the sweet singer and King of Israel,” as he reminds Jehovah of his credentials.
It is the spiritual equivalent of, “Hey, don’t you know who I am?”
Desperation drips from every word that falls from Joseph’s lips.
“Please tell me how to embrace this mystery. Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; I flood my bed with tears.”
Joseph descends into a deep sleep. But even here, the mystery is near; God is near.
The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. God has heard Joseph’s prayers, and he sends his angel with this message: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bare a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph awakes from his sleep. The sun is peeking over the distant hills of Nazareth; the light of God’s love is already shining brightly in Joseph’s heart. The fear that once gripped him is now gone; he must tell Mary.
Quickly, Joseph packs his things including dry meat, figs, and some fruit. He leaves before the sun wakes up the rest of Nazareth. Along the way, Joseph rehearses the dream. He praises God for making real to him the mystery of salvation. “And you shall call his name Jesus,” the words of the angel echo in his heart. “He will save his people from their sins,” “Yeshua, God saves!” he says, talking to his beast of burden who seems to be listening.
Arriving in the community of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he asks someone for directions to their home. Mary and Elizabeth are outside basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Joseph quickens his step. His heart now beats with the promise that resides in Mary’s womb.
Looking up, Mary is blinded by the sun. She recognizes the voice, but she only sees an outline of the man walking toward her.
“Mary!” They embrace. No one can imagine the gift of love they possess for each other. Their love is mutual because of the gift of love growing in Mary’s womb.
“I know,” Joseph whispers in Mary’s ear. “I had a dream. The angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream!”
Mary listens as if she already knows, but she does not interrupt.
“What did the angel say to you?” she asks, as if she doesn’t know.
Joseph wipes tears from his eyes. Elizabeth draws closer to hear. Mary’s face is now framed by the sun that is setting behind her. Joseph speaks slowly and deliberately. No longer sounding anxious or worried, he says: “The angel told me not to be afraid to be your husband. The angel said, ‘that which is conceived in you is of the Holy Spirit.’ ”
And Joseph did receive Mary and her baby into his heart and into his home, providing for them, loving them, and protecting them. But Joseph knew her not; fully satisfied to be known as the husband of Mary. With all of his heart he lived his calling as the foster father of the Son of God. Joseph and Mary raised the child that had brought them together. And together they watched him grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with man.
So you see, the real season of Christmas is near. It brings to us a story of love that began in a little village called Nazareth. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? I’m glad you asked.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. It’s a love story...