Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Father Shawn Hughes


Homilies are never the creative act of one person.  So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week.  Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it.  ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time.  If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.  

God bless you.

Father Shawn

Today’s Gospel centres on the wonderful figure of St.  Joseph.    St. Joseph one of the most beloved of the saints…Depicted in countless works of art and prominent in the devotional lives of man.  And yet, we know almost nothing about him.   He isn’t quoted in the Scriptures at all.  He seems to always take the back seat in most of the Christmas story.  But Matthew’s account of the Angel Gabriel appearing to him is a powerful lesson to us today.  There are some very powerful spiritual themes that emerge in the accounts of St. Joseph.  He is presented as the model of what it is to be a Christian disciple: total trust in God and surrender to God’s will for him in his life.

St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. In every event of His life, Joseph sought to do the Lord’s will and thus Scripture praises him as a righteous man, a just man.  A just man is someone who loves God and proves his love by keeping God’s commandments and directing his whole life towards the service of his brothers and sisters.

We can learn so much from Joseph:

According to the Law of Moses a young couple was engaged or betrothed about one year before marriage.  They did not live together during this period but it had the same legal validity as marriage.  At the news that his betrothed, Mary, was with child, his immediate response is that of a just man.

This must have been a torturous time for St.  Joseph.  He is a good example to all of us whose lives are suddenly turned upside down by some tragic event, crisis, illness, even death.  You can imagine the turmoil that the news that Mary was pregnant put into Joseph’s heart:

  1. He knew this was not his child.
  2. Therefore, he must divorce her
  3. It is out of deep religious conviction that he must divorce her.
  4. No matter how much he still loves Mary, according to Jewish law it was his religious obligation to end the marriage contract and give her a certificate of divorce…because she is apparently guilty of fornication, a crime in the Old Testament Scriptures punishable by death (in Deuteronomy 22:23-24_)
  5. If Joseph publicly accused Mary she could be stoned according to that law.

We can learn a lot from what happens next.  Joseph is righteous. He is not self-righteous.  So his justice is tempered by mercy; although he must divorce her in order to demonstrate that his love for God is stronger than his love for Mary, he determines to do it secretly, so as not to cause her public humiliation.

But, BIG BUT HERE, the Angel Gabriel instructs him with two very strong commands:

“Do not be afraid”.  He has said the same thing to Mary when he appeared to her and asked if she would be the Mother of the Saviour.  “Do not be afraid” is the most common expression that we hear throughout the entire Bible. “Do not be afraid” is one of the key messages to us today.  Be not afraid to live out one’s faith honestly and fully in every circumstance.  If we are truly living according to God’s will…it won’t necessarily be easy… but we need not fear as we know he is there in it with us.   Emmanuel! It means God is with us.  Emmanuel is a powerful word of comfort to so many of us who do carry huge burdens of sickness, suffering and sorrow.  God is with us.

“Be not afraid!” is the first command.  “Go and do!” is the second.  It is as if the angel is saying “Even in your fear there is nothing to be afraid of…do what is being asked of you and God will be with you.”  The response to God’s grace for Joseph was one of action.  It must be the same for us.   In his Christmas message a couple of years ago Archbishop O’Brien challenged us:  “What good is it to sing “Peace on Earth” if we are not concerned about the peace of our world and our relationships?  What does it mean to proclaim Christ’s birth in a manger if the poor and hungry are neglected?  Why admire the persistence of the wise men if we ourselves are not searching for God?”

After the angel Gabriel appears to him St. Joseph realizes that these puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s. What appears to be a disaster from his perspective is meaningful from God’s perspective.

Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest purpose. Like Mary at the annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led.

God certainly submitted Joseph and Mary to severe trial.  We ought not to be surprised if we also undergo difficult trials in the course of our lives.  Like Joseph…and Mary, God calls us to trust in Him during severe trial or when our lives take a ninety degree turn from where we expected it to go…In it he calls us to remain faithful to him, following their example.

God gives his grace, His strength, His love, to those who act in an upright way and who trust in his power and wisdom when faced with situations which exceed human understanding. Joseph simply trusted…And in that trust was given the courage and strength to take on a situation that seemed completely unliveable.

At this close point to Christmas we repeat the refrain of our psalm today…”Let the Lord come in!” Joseph did!  Our Lady did! And see the great fruit letting the Lord come in bore!  The same graces are offered to each one of us.  “May the Lord come in to all aspects of our lives…our homes, our families, our relationships, our work…May the Lord come in…And heal whatever has not been held up to his light…Letting the Lord come in is the peace we speak about so often at this time of year.

For your spiritual preparation in the last few days before the great solemnity of Christmas I encourage you to pray the following prayer:

“Be with me St. Joseph.  Be close.   Give me the trust in God you had.  Give me the strength you had to live out God’s plan for me as you lived out God’s plan for you.  Give me the courage you had to accept the turmoil of my life as you accepted the turmoil to your plans and hopes. Amen.”

Also in this final week pray:  “Lord enter in to all aspects of our lives! And open our hearts in welcome to the unfolding purpose of your will, that we may announce the nearness of your presence in Your Son, Jesus Christ.   Help me to know it! Help me to trust it even when I don’t understand it.   Help me to cooperate with it! Come Lord!  Come Divine Messiah! Enter in! Amen.”