As we come to the Fourth Sunday of Advent our attention is drawn to the story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Joseph.[[In-content Ad]]
Matthew’s version of the events of the birth of Jesus focuses on Joseph whereas the more familiar version from Luke sees the events through the eyes of Mary.
Joseph stands before us as a model of faith. Wracked with uncertainty and confusion at the realization that the woman to whom he is betrothed is with child and, knowing that he was not the father, he had to make an important decision. We see him acting with mercy and compassion as he decided to divorce her quietly instead of subjecting her to the humiliation and penalties of Mosaic Law.
Yet, when the angel appears to him in a dream, and instructs him that the child to be born has been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph acts immediately and takes her into his home as his wife.
Although he has no speaking parts in the Gospel, we can get a sense of the power of his faith. In this way Joseph reminds us of so many of the important characters in the Old Testament in whose lineage he stands. Most importantly, Joseph is a descendant of King David, the greatest king in their history and a man whose faith was unwavering.
“Name the child Jesus,” Joseph is told, for he will “save his people from their sins.” The salvific mission of Jesus is announced at the very beginning. The mission of Jesus is focused on salvation, on bringing us, his people, to eternal life.
By announcing that Joseph was to hand onto Jesus his David lineage, we are introduced to what is an important theme in Matthew’s Gospel – Jesus as the “Davidic Messiah.” As son of David, Jesus fulfills the messianic hopes and expectations of the Jewish people.
Even more specifically, Matthew tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah to Ahaz – “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Joseph is told that the child to be born would be called Emmanuel (Immanuel) – “God is with us.” This takes us even beyond the prophecy itself – God will visit his people in the person of the Davidic Messiah.
This is another of the great themes of Matthew’s Gospel – Jesus is the Son of God. We saw this first in the announcement that the child would be born of the power of the Holy Spirit and now with the association of the child with the prophecy of Isaiah.
Joseph, awakening from the dream, understood what he had to do. Whatever reservations he had regarding the responsibility of raising this child of Mary have been put aside.
As we approach Christmas, let us take time to consider Joseph as a model of faith and how we are to respond to the call to discipleship in our own lives. He is certainly much more than the plastic figure in our Nativity scenes.