Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

The Gospel each Sunday of the coming year is taken from St Matthew. St Matthew’s chief aim was to present Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament. Therefore in many of the Gospel extracts this year we will encounter references like the one we read today: ‘this was to fulfil the words of the prophet..’

It is helpful to know this when we read the Gospel for the coming year each Sunday that Matthew’s slant as it were is to present Jewish to would-be Jewish converts. There are dozens of references to prophecy.

It is therefore typical of Matthew to present us with the words of the prophet Isaiah that we read also in the First Reading this Sunday. The Church has carefully chosen these readings to align them with the Gospel according to Matthew.

The virgin is with child and will give birth to a child named Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’ (Isaiah 7:14).

St Matthew's infancy narrative is also described as telling things from Joseph's point of view (as opposed to Mary's perspective in Luke) and as an obedient Jew cognizant of Jewish Law and custom.

Let's have a closer look at St Joseph and how applicable his dilemmas are to us:

We have all heard the expression ‘if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans.

How many days are we just about coping? How many times, I wonder, do we go to bed at night truly satisfied that we accomplished everything we had set out to do that morning?

Often a day does not turn out as planned. There are upsets, unexpected twists, disappointments and adjustments which may be unforeseeable. It is good to have contingency plans, and to qualify our expectations according to what God might want for us. Sickness or a sudden visit to the hospital, an unexpected death of someone, a traffic jam or even bad weather shatters our schedules and our comfort.

We know in our hearts that we cannot see ahead, that we cannot plan for every contingency or for everything that might put our plans astray and yet we live as if we are in total control. It is not that we begrudge others what is urgent but what is amazing is that we never cease to be surprised that things just won’t always go our way.

I wonder therefore about St Joseph and his plans. To me he is the saint for people who are struggling to cope with whatever life throws unexpectedly at them.

What HAD Joseph planned for himself? If we imagine for a moment that he had thought that he would marry Mary, settle down with a trade and steady income; that if God blessed him that he would have children who he would raise up in the Jewish faith and who would follow him in the family profession; that he might be fortunate to live to see grandchildren; and that he would never have to travel very far except to Jerusalem; then we know with the benefit of hindsight that he would have been completely off the mark. Everything important in life - marriage, childbirth and home - took an unexpected turn. He had to cope with unique situations, never to be repeated and never to be experienced by any one else - ever.

He had to learn to cope with unforeseeable changes to his plans but he was prompted and guided by God - who he obeyed without question - in extreme situations of danger and crisis.

Therefore, maybe it is not so much what I set out to do that is of most interest to the Lord, but how I cope when things do not go according to my plans.

It is not only in the faithfulness to the many little things that occupy me that interests Him but how I prioritize them and how promptly I can leave aside what I consider important so that I am ready and willing to turn to a more pressing immediate need of another.

This does not mean that God is ‘playing games’ with us, but rather that He may be challenging us to see how much we realistically think we can accomplish by our own efforts alone.

Maybe God is not just calling me to fidelity in small things but sanctity is in how I handle crises that may be or not be of my own making. He may want me to see today how when things go wrong how I might be inclined to apportion blame and accept none; how I might give into rage and impatience; how I might blurt out something I may instantly regret (but may not be willing to acknowledge that I may be wrong or that I jumped to conclusions). Maybe humility and honesty is the way after all that God is calling me to live this day, and to greater trust and surrender to His will no matter how things turn out.

There are no recorded words of St Joseph – maybe he was a man of few words in reality, but we definitely are not! Maybe it is his silence rather than any words of wisdom that speaks volumes. His silence is his eloquence. May we learn to qualify our plans and projects and lives to God's will more often. May we follow his example in patience, understanding, and endurance. May he lead us to share in the constant company of Jesus and Mary which he had the privilege to enjoy in his earthly life because he silently, promptly and perseveringly obeyed what the Lord required of him at every given moment.

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