The Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Matthew 1:18-24 New International Version (NIV)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[a]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[b] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[d] (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
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THE gospel for the fourth Sunday of advent clearly challenges us to show “God with us” amidst the injustice that prevails upon the world. It also shows how humility could justify our faith and how faith should take precedence over everything else, even our honor or the prevailing laws, customs or norms. It is interesting to note that Matthew’s account of the annunciation is centered on Joseph while that of Luke is more about Mary.
Joseph’s humble response to his predicament is another useful template for us to emulate. Clearly, Joseph, in this instance cited in Matthew, felt he was dishonored by having a wife who was impregnated by another thus in accordance with the prevailing laws and customs at the time, he became determined to divorce Mary. Joseph, a gentleman that he is and considerate of Mary feelings, decided to divorce her it quietly.
Nevertheless, according to the gospel of Matthew, Joseph had a change of heart when he apparently realized, following a dream wherein he was visited by an angel of the Lord, that what happened to them as a couple is the will of God and that the child Mary bears is the Messiah and proof of God’s unconditional love for humanity, that “God with us” is tangible evidence of his desire to be among us that we may feel his love and unending grace.
Joseph paid attention to his dream, did what he was told and took Mary home. He was able to discern that honoring God through his obedience is the correct thing to do and that his earthly honor is worth nothing compared to the glory of God. Being faithful to God, it dawned on Joseph that the prevailing laws, customs or norms will not justify his faith to the Lord. It is his obedience to the will of God not the norms of the world that will justify his faith and set him free.
This brings us now to the challenge posed by the Gospel. How can we prove and talk about God’s incarnation amidst the prevailing social injustice, man’s inhumanity to fellow man, the reigning culture of impunity, the wanton desecration of the environment in the name of profit, the continuing violation of human rights by state and non-state actors, etc…? How could Immanuel be portrayed in all of these? How is God’s incarnation could then be possible?
Simple, by becoming like Joseph. We ought to honor God by humbly following his will and by not just preserving the status quo if it already needed to be changed. Had Joseph ignored the angel of the Lord and gave more importance to his earthly honor than his obedience to God and quietly divorced Mary, he will not be honoring God and could never had been the Messiah’s father on Earth, an honor greater than any man could have. We are supposed to be the modern Josephs of the world, ready to act and follow God’s will.
At the same time, we could portray Immanuel in this world through our faith justified by our demonstrable actions of justice to ourselves, our fellow, our society, the environment and ultimately to God. We cannot just hold and wait for God’s deliverance by simply clinging to our laws, tradition or norms like what the Pharisees do until now. We should act and act justly to justify our faith in God like what Joseph and the prophets before him did. Faith justified is Immanuel’s face, it is what we should see in us and our fellow, and the environment we live in. It is what should be witnessed by the world.
I say therefore that it is our solemn duty, members of the clergy or lay alike, is to be witnesses and act on the incarnation of God in the world. We should not just wait for his coming but rather take an active part in bringing him to the world and preparing his kingdom. We ought to prepare the way, as this is the justification of our faith.
Actively preparing ourselves, our fellow, our society, and the environment for the Messiah’s coming is what the fourth Sunday of advent is all about.