The gospel narration for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Matthew 1:16-24) depicts Joseph as a reliable instrument in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. Joseph’s story of faith is a subplot in the major proclamation of the birth of the awaited Messiah.
Jesus of the line of David
One of Saint Matthew’s concerns is to express the tradition that Jesus is the Son of God born of the house of David as promised of old. The lineage of a Jew is based on that of the father. Part of Joseph’s role in the story of Jesus is to provide the ancestry traced in the genealogy that confirmed Jesus as truly a Son of David (Romans 1:3-4; Acts 2:29-32; 13:22-23). As the husband of Mary, Joseph was legally the father of Mary’s son. “You are to name him Jesus,” the angel instructed Joseph specifying his paternal duty. The extraordinary nature of the birth of the Savior is underlined by the fact among others that Joseph, though the legal father, was not the biological father of Jesus.
During the first portion of the two-part matrimonial procedure among the Jews, Mary was betrothed to Joseph. It means that a formal exchange of consent between Joseph and his parents on one side and the parents of Mary on the other was done with witnesses present. This betrothal takes place when the bride turns around 12 to 13 years old. Joseph and Mary were, thereafter, considered already husband and wife. But they would start to live together only at the second part of the procedure, around a year afterward at the formal transfer when the groom fetches the bride home and assumes full responsibility for her welfare.
Through the Holy Spirit
When Mary was found with child before they lived together, Joseph’s dismay was at the horrible specter of an adultery case; he knew it was not his. Whose child is it then? Joseph loved Mary, but “since he was a righteous man” he could not bring himself to condone nonfeasance or be even a passive accomplice by toleration of an abomination before God. Yet, he would not want Mary to be exposed to the shame of a trial for adultery and to the possibility of death penalty, and so Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly.
Joseph’s faith, like that of Mary’s, received an extreme challenge when the explanation given for this pregnancy was that it is an act of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. But he rose to the occasion and showed himself totally trusting and obedient to the divine will. God’s intervention and intention were manifested in the first of three angelic appearances to Joseph in a dream. Not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife, not to be fazed by the extraordinary turn of events, not to hesitate to assume his assigned role in the developing drama of God’s long-awaited saving action in the life of His people, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took Mary home as his wife and became the legal father of the Messiah.
Alálaong bagá, as our Savior from the reign of sin, Jesus would be the very presence of merciful God among His people—“Emmanuel”. But then as now for God to be present in the affairs of humankind, persons like Joseph and Mary are called upon to cooperate with Him. It is terrifying to think that our faith and responsibility may well determine if God would be incarnated and present in our families, workplaces, communities and nation. As Joseph and Mary made Christmas possible then, so now it is our turn. Needed are people who can be counted upon.
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