Take a moment to read today’s gospel reading.
“This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:”The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel,” a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.”
This is the event that changed human history.
Before the birth of Christ people knew that God existed, but the sense was that God lived at a distance from the earth, in the heavens, communicating through cosmic signs; weather events, storms, floods, rainbows and earthquakes wind and fire, and through a few chosen and holy people.
Every now and then the holy person would climb the mountain (since mountain-tops were closer to heaven) and communicate with God on behalf of the people, bringing any word from God back down to the people.
The prevailing sense among believers that God needed to be pleased and appeased through obedience to the law, good works and sacrifice.
The events reported in today’s gospel account changed this direction. While we still search for God, the new divine method is a God who not only searches for us, but who comes to us in flesh and blood in the here and now, in the routine, mundane and demanding events of daily life.
I like the way that the angel communicated with Joseph most clearly when Joseph was sleeping. Joseph was doing nothing, just sleeping, yet he woke with a clear sense of what he was to do.
Pope Francis has spoken about the great example of silence Joseph gives us. Francis reflected:
“We must learn from Joseph to cultivate silence: that space of interiority in our days in which we give the Spirit the opportunity to regenerate us, to console us, to correct us. I am not saying to fall into muteness, no. Silence. But very often, each one of us look inside, when we are working on something and when we finish, immediately we look for our telephone to make another call… we are always like this. And this does not help, this makes us slip into superficiality. Profoundness of the heart grows with silence, silence that is not mutism as I said, but which leaves space for wisdom, reflection and the Holy Spirit. We are afraid of moments of silence. Let us not be afraid! It will do us good.” (Full text at this link)
Click on the image below to hear David Moxon, Triona Doocey & Merv Duffy in conversation with John O’Connor, reflecting on the scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.