Holy Redeemer In the care of the Ecumenical Franciscan Order
Homily, 29th December 2013, Fourth Sunday in Advent, delivered by Br Simeon EFO.
Gospel: Mt 1: 18-24
" Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it"
Advent is running out of time and Christmas is almost upon us. The readings invite us to step aside for a while from the hustle and bustle of the world to reflect on the events leading up to that first night in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Matthew views the story of the birth of Jesus through the eyes of Joseph and gives us a remarkable insight into his personality. The ideal that Jesus expressed when he said ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ was deeply challenged when Joseph learned the news that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant. There was nothing straightforward about this situation since they had not been living together as husband and wife. It was traumatic news and Joseph wondered how this could be. Faced with such a real dilemma and a crisis of intimacy, he felt cheated, embarrassed, hurt, and left out. As he struggled with this extraordinary happening, his heart must have been heavy and his dreams shattered. However he did not act rashly but responded to the situation with a generous and open heart.
Afraid, confused and unsure he prepared his course of action and made a lonely decision. Being an honourable and upright man of God, he planned to act quietly and chose a way that would shield Mary from scorn and save her from public embarrassment. But before he put his plan into action Joseph was taken into confidence by the appearance of God’s messenger who came in a dream to explain Mary’s uprightness and the divine origin of the baby. Joseph listened to God’s word and through the angel’s message allowed his life to be influenced and directed to God’s will and acted accordingly. As head of the household Joseph had the specific role of naming the child. Moved by God’s inner prompting, he accepted Mary as his wife and adopted her child as his own.
There wasn't much that was comfortable and cosy about Joseph’s decision to hear and obey the word of God. He was what we would describe as an ordinary working class man called on to respond to God’s extraordinary plan. Like any parent he had to cope with the same fears, worries and bitter disappointments that come to every home. His relationship with God must have been close because in this time of crisis he trusted God’s word and co-operated with God in a decisive manner. Anguished he may have been and he may not have understood all that was happening, but he had come to realise that the hand of God was in everything, taking care of all things and he put his trust in this power. He was open to the Spirit at work in his soul and ready to turn his life upside down each time he heard God’s call.
We can learn from this aspect of his character how to respond to God who communicates with us in the challenging situations of life. Nowadays, the vast majority of people are unaware of the religious significance of Christmas. They view it as a break from work in the wilds of mid-winter. It is our destiny to live in a world of unbelief and confusion where difficulties arise at every turn. With God’s help Joseph got it right and so will we. Once we believe like Joseph and humbly surrender to God, there is no limit to what he can achieve in our own very ordinary lives. Christmas is a time for remembering and showing gratitude to those people who helped us out during the year. Let’s not forget to show them the recognition that they deserve.
The basis of our Christmas hope is that not only is there a God who made the heavens and the earth but he is here with us now in the flesh offering us peace and reconciliation. We all have something unresolved in our lives that quietly eats away at us, disturbing our peace and our ability to show true love for others. As we approach this great feast of Christmas can we say like Joseph that we are ready to rely on God’s help and guidance when we sorely need to be reconciled to another family member? Joseph’s silent presence in the gospel is a testimony of God’s great love for all the poor, humble and just people down through the ages, who are quietly faithful to trusting and relying on God in good times and in bad. As Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’