Advent, December 18th

As part of the last week of Advent the Gospel turns to another important member of the Holy Family, St. Joseph. As the First Reading reminds us today, as well as the lineage recalled yesterday, the Messiah was to be born into the House of David. It is thanks to St. Joseph that it happened. However, as today’s Gospel reminds us, it was not all cut and dry for Joseph; he knew he was not Jesus’ biological father, and that apparently meant adultery on Mary’s part, calling for action to be taken.

The Law was clear on how adulteresses should be treated, but somehow Joseph knew in his heart that he should not expose Mary to cold brutality that the Law apparently condoned in those cases (adulteresses shunned and even stoned). He had a dilemma in his heart and he felt obliged to opt for the Law, but in the most compassionate manner possible: a parting of ways with Mary through a quiet divorce. So God resorted to a channel of communication that hearkened back to the age of the Patriarchs: a dream. Joseph had already intuited in his heart that the raw Law was not the answer, but he hadn’t felt he could go beyond it, just temper it with forgiveness and compassion. In the dream the angel communicated to him that the Holy Spirit itself was responsible for Mary’s pregnancy and that Jesus would be the Messiah. Joseph obeyed and welcomed not only Mary and Jesus into his home, but into the House of David.

If it seems sometimes that God has to resort to a back channel to communicate with us, to lower our resistance in order to speak to us, we must remember that the most fundamental means of communication is love. It doesn’t discard justice; rather, it tempers it and permits space for mercy and compassion. When we don’t understand what Our Lord is asking from us, or why he may have permitted a troubling situation, let’s strive to respond with the same fairness and compassion as St. Joseph. The Lord will make sure his message gets through to us somehow.

Readings: Jeremiah 23:5–8; Psalm 72:1–2, 12–13, 18–19; Matthew 1:18–25.