The Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Advent focusses on God’s call to St Joseph. It’s a good reminder to us that two people encountered angels asking them to do something difficult in the Christmas story: Our Lady and St Joseph. We perhaps more often think of the Annunciation, of the Angel Gabriel visiting Our Lady and her great “Yes” to what was asked of her. And yet perhaps St Joseph should get more of our attention than he does.
Our Lady was, by the grace of God, conceived without original sin, as we celebrated earlier this month. This enabled her to freely choose to follow God’s call, as our first parents failed to do. Her “Yes” to God was one of the critical moments in the history of salvation. In the face of an unknown future that could put her life in danger she declared herself the handmaid of the Lord and said that God’s will should be done.
Rightly, she is regarded as the ideal disciple, the pattern of the perfect human life. Yet that very perfection can be a barrier for us, who very definitely are subject to the effects of sin. So let us consider Joseph. A just man; a good man; as one would expect God would chose to be the husband of Mary. But, a sinner like us. No doubt with his flaws and imperfections. He doesn’t even meet an angel face to face, like Our Lady, but has to rely on a dream.
And what this imperfect man is asked to do doesn’t threaten his life, it just makes him vulnerable to ridicule. He has to face the probability of people sniggering about his fiancée being unfaithful. Having to raise another man’s child. In the society of his day, humiliating. In the face of this, Joseph, despite his flaws and imperfections, says “Yes” to God and does what the angel asks.
So Joseph is perhaps the one we look to as a model at this Christmas season. We too are flawed and imperfect. We too find ourselves having to face laughter from those who find our belief foolish. And criticism when we speak up for the truth, against the fashions of the day.
St Joseph was also necessary to our salvation. Jesus became fully human. He, like us, had to learn from his human parents, how to live as a man. St Joseph was his pattern, in this, not a great figure, not a king, just an ordinary working man. We too, ordinary working people, are called to be a pattern for our world, that others may learn the Good News. May the example and prayers of St Joseph, help us in our call. And may we have the courage, like him, to say “Yes.”
Fr Chris Denham