December 22, 2013
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Matthew 1: 18-24
Having sketched the human provenance of Jesus (vs.1-17), Matthew now presents his account of Jesus' divine origins. Unlike Luke, Matthew tells the story from the perspective of Joseph. It is Joseph who is distressed over Mary's pregnancy and it is he who has a dream, which resolves the matter. As one who hears God's message in a dream, Joseph is connected with the patriarch Joseph who communicated with God in dreams (Gen 37:1ff), for Matthew is intent on showing how the Hebrew Scriptures were fulfilled in the story of Jesus.
When Joseph's rather inept attempt to resolve his dilemma is cut short by a message from God, the primary point of this passage is revealed, namely, that God controls all the critical moments in the real human history, which involves God's gracious plan for human salvation. Virgin birth is an obviously divine act and such an intervention cancels human attempts to control everything. It also puts Mary in touch with the unnamed virgin in Isaiah (7:14) whose childbearing re-asserted God's intention of being with his people, come what may.
We are constantly being urged to take charge of our lives and to make things happen according to our wishes. If we fail, it is usually assumed that we just didn't try hard enough. In a word, our secular culture prizes control almost as much as it prizes money.
In this gospel, we learn that God takes charge in really critical situations and that we are asked to acquiesce in this assertion of divine control. For the confirmed secularist, this is really bad news. But for those of us who believe in the goodness and wisdom of God it is truly gospel, that is, the ultimate good news. For it demonstrates that our history is an arena, not just for our exploits, but also for the display of God's love. It is also a reminder that there can never really be any doubt about the ultimate victory of God's goodness. It is incredibly consoling to know that a good and loving God is in charge of history.
Our challenge now is to trust the goodness in life so that we may be part of that victory. Joseph was confused, as we often are, but he trusted God's mysterious ways and found incredible blessing in what he had not planned. Christmas is the feast that celebrates God's love and goodness. There could hardly be a better way to prepare for Christmas on this last Sunday of Advent than to imitate Joseph in his willingness to be positive and hopeful at those times when life does not seem to make sense.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.