by Rev. William P. Saunders
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
This last Sunday of Advent, our Gospel presents the annunciation of the birth of the Messiah. While Luke focuses on Archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary, Matthew focuses on Joseph. And, I think for good reason. Sometimes we forget Joseph. Oftentimes he looks like a tired, old man. Or worse, he is excluded. I remember receiving a Christmas card with a portion of a famous painting: Depicted were baby Jesus, Mary, and a shepherd, and then there was an arm — poor Joseph had been cut out.
Nevertheless, Joseph is essential to the Christmas story, and an important example for each of us. His name means, “May God add posterity,” signifying God would add children through his Son who had been entrusted to his foster father. Joseph was of the house and lineage of Abraham and David. He is the link between the old covenant made with Abraham and marked by the blood of circumcision, and the perfect covenant made through the blood of Jesus. He brings to a close King David’s physical kingdom and the physical promised land, and sets the stage for the opening of the kingdom of God established by Christ, made visible in the church, and the true promised land of heaven. Joseph also was a righteous man, meaning he was “right with God”: he lived by God’s standard, kept the commandments and emulated his love.
For good reason, this holy man was selected to be the foster father of Our Lord. Heeding the message of Archangel Gabriel (presumably) in a dream, he took Mary as his wife and Jesus as his own child. Without any questioning, he simply did God’s holy will.
Jesus needed Joseph. In accord with the Torah, a child was circumcised eight days after birth. Jesus needed a father to present him to the rabbi, to give him his name, Jesus, meaning “Yahweh saves,” and to hold him securely the first time his blood was shed. Without a father, Jesus would have been nothing in both Roman and Jewish society.
Secondly, Jesus needed a holy, masculine example. Archbishop Fulton Sheen posited, “Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined, the kind of man one sees working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being man incapable of loving, he must have been on fire with love … . Instead then of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the King, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life, but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion” (“The World’s First Love”)
Thirdly, through Joseph and Mary, Jesus learned about married life and family life. In particular, Jesus saw Joseph lead the family in prayer each morning and evening, and before each meal. He led the family to the synagogue for the Sabbath or to Jerusalem for the special feasts like Passover. He taught Jesus how to read the Torah. Joseph taught Jesus the trade of carpentry: carpenters in those days did everything from constructing homes, to making furniture, carving yokes, making crutches. Jesus learned so much from Good St. Joseph, which prepared him for his ministry.
Yes, Joseph is essential for Christmas, and he is essential for our celebration. Take time for silence. Joseph did not speak one recorded word in the Gospel. Find quiet time each day. Read the Gospel stories about Christmas. Gaze on the manger scene and dream about what it was like to be there with the Holy Family.
Reflect on your own righteousness. Are you right with the Lord? With others? Make time for self-examination, repentance and confession.
Consider your gift to those you love: The best gift a husband can give to his own wife is to be the best husband possible, and vice versa. The best gift a parent can give a child is to be the best father or mother possible, and the best gift a child can give is to honor and respect father and mother.
For you young people, ponder your vocation: Is the Lord calling you to serve him in a special way? If so, say, “Yes,” and the Lord will give you the strength to bring it to completion.
St. Joseph, pray for us this Christmas and each day.