16 Dec Monday
Advent IV A. Joseph makes a rare appearance in the gospel this Sunday, and like men everywhere actually doesn’t say a word, so men resonate with the carpenter who is faithful, righteous, and devout, to say nothing of the outrageous kindness he offers Mary by taking her in. He is also a man who pays attention to his dreams and to that interior voice of the Lord. Perhaps he doesn’t speak so that he can listen!
How does anyone in a small community have a quiet divorce? There’s gossip, and not always the kind explained in Kathleen Norris’ chapter on gossip in her book, Dakota. Today divorces are loud and ugly affairs, and way too many have a say about it, take sides, and make it messier. Joseph must have felt some of this in tiny Nazareth. It is his openness to the plan of God in a dream, no less, that changes his mind. Betrothal in that culture was almost for practical purposes a marriage commitment. Twice in the text, Mary is called “his wife.” The act of taking her into his home only sealed the deal. The betrothal in the father’s house had already occurred and the dowry dealt with. Jewish marriage was a two part process: presentation at the bride’s father’s house and the the conveyance of the bride to the groom’s house. The first step is betrothal and the second the marriage. From the time of the betrothal, the man and woman are husband and wife. Refer to De Vaux for the details.
Behind this story are deep Biblical themes of faithfulness to the law and to the prophets at once, difficult as that is to bring the two together. Another great theme is the incredible value of life and the excitement of a new life coming into the world. The first reading shares this same excitement of continuity and possible future security of an heir. For the reading from Romans, the key phrase is without doubt, “the obedience of faith” υπακοην πιστεως, which of course becomes the theme of the entire letter to the Romans. This openness to the Messiah is in Joseph’s very character and we invite this into our own selves as a gift from God.