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Saturday, third week of Advent

December 18, 2004

Blessed Saturday!

O Lord of Lords
And Leader of the house of Israel
Who appeared to Moses in the bush’s flaming fire,
And gave to him the Law of Sinai
Come stretch out Your mighty hand to set us free

Jeremiah 23:5-8
Psalm 72: 1-2, 12-13, 18-19 “Justice shall flourish in His time, and fullness of peace forever”
Matthew 1:18-24

We get yet another look at leadership today. God proclaims that He’s going to raise up a new leader from the royal house of David, a leader who will usher in a whole new way of life for his people. The Israelites were used to referring back to the Passover, to their liberation from the slavery of Egypt, as the high point in their history. God’s telling them there’s going to be a new high point, a new liberation that will surpass the old. He will bring about a new era of security. When the Israelites left Egypt, they shook off an exterior slavery, a domination of men over men. But they were still subject to an interior slavery, a domination of sinful desires over the will to do what was right. That’s why they kept turning away from God and getting clobbered by pagan nations. They needed to be set free within. They didn’t understand that, though, so God gave them an image they could grasp, an image of the peace and security that would result from the freedom from sin.

We know now that the new leader God had in mind was Himself in the flesh, God incarnate, Emmanuel. Because He knows how easily we misunderstand what He does, He wanted to give us every chance of recognizing Him as God when He came. That’s why He was born of a Virgin, through His own overshadowing of her. Joseph didn’t understand this yet, though, so when he found out that his betrothed was with Child & the Baby wasn’t his, he didn’t know what to do. If he went through with the wedding, it would look like he was the father & that wasn’t true. But if he made it public that he wasn’t the father, she would be stoned to death.

There seems to be some disagreement regarding whether Joseph suspected Mary of adultery or not. On the surface it looks as though he did suspect her, and was just being very forgiving about it all. But some of the early Church Fathers, including Jerome, Origen & Anselm (I’m taking this from the Catena Aurea again), suggest that Joseph believed in Mary’s purity. He recognized that something divine was going on and felt unworthy to marry her.

He had just decided to break off the betrothal quietly when God intervened through a dream, explaining the nature of Mary’s pregnancy and asking Joseph to accept the role of father as well as husband. No, Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father, but he could become His father if he was willing to make the commitment. Worthy or not, God had chosen him to be the leader, the protector, of the Holy family. Pope John Paul II, basing his assertion on the fourth century document, “De Margarita”, explains that Joseph’s fatherhood was a real fatherhood, not just an apparent one, despite his lack of participation in Jesus’ conception. He gave Jesus His Name, exercised an earthly authority to which Jesus was obedient, contributed to Jesus’ upbringing and taught Him the carpenter’s trade (John Paul II, General Audience, August 21, 1996). Through his acceptance of God’s call, through his commitment to fatherhood, Joseph became a virginal father, a complement of Mary, Jesus’ virginal mother. Like Mary, Joseph said “yes” to God and lived out the consequences of that “yes” for the rest of his life. Together, Joseph and Mary modeled loving, joyful obedience before the Son who would one day break the power of our “no” to God, of our slavery to sin, through His perfect obedience on the Cross. Joseph, in particular, modeled leadership for the Leader who would win for us the peace and security God had promised.

May we be prepared to follow Joseph’s courageous example of saying “yes” to God,
especially when He does something new and unexpected in our lives.

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