By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
As we approach Christmas, the Church invites us to reflect on Mary and Joseph and their courageous faith. I can think of no better models for us to welcome Our Savior than our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph. Their example invites us to accept, with openness of spirit, Jesus who is Emmanuel, God-among-us.
This Sunday we celebrate the Fourth and Last Sunday of Advent. The Gospel this year is the account of the Angel’s Annunciation to Joseph. The Angel’s Annunciation to Mary was the Gospel for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Gospel we will hear again this Tuesday, December 20th. These two “Annunciations” are amazing announcements of the Incarnation delivered by heavenly messengers. They also involve the amazing responses, one spoken and the other unspoken, which express the obedient faith of Mary and Joseph to God’s will and plan for our salvation.
The angel appeared to Mary when she was awake and the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. In both Annunciations, the angel said: “Do not be afraid.” In the case of Mary, she was troubled by the greeting of the angel, not knowing what it meant. In the case of Joseph, he was in turmoil because of Mary’s pregnancy, having decided “to divorce her quietly” since he was “unwilling to expose her to shame.” They were both afraid and confused, but God’s revelation, which they accepted with obedient faith, filled them with peace. It was the revelation of the Incarnation, that the Son conceived by Mary is of the Holy Spirit.
The angel told Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The angel told Joseph: “It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The angel told both Mary and Joseph that the child should be named “Jesus,” a name which means “God saves.”
Mary is our exemplar and model of faith in her response to the message of the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Though we have no spoken words of Saint Joseph at the Annunciation to him, the Gospel tells us that “when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” Both Mary and Joseph responded positively to the word of God. Saint John Paul II wrote that “Joseph is the first to share in the faith of the Mother of God,… the first to be placed by God on the path of Mary’s pilgrimage of faith.” We are called to walk that pilgrimage of faith, to walk with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in these final days of Advent.
I invite you in your prayer during these final days of Advent to contemplate the mystery we prepare to celebrate, maybe even having a little spiritual conversation with Mary and Joseph. Ask them to help you to live the true spirit of Christmas, to be close to their Son. I encourage you to find some quiet time for prayer during these noisy and busy days before Christmas. There is an aura of silence around Saint Joseph (the Gospels contain none of his spoken words). Yet, that silence speaks eloquently to us of the interior life of Joseph, who, like Mary, is a model of humility and prayer. If we desire to experience the true joy of Christmas, we can learn from Mary and Joseph the secret of silence and reflection on the great mystery of the Incarnation.
Mary and Joseph teach us that the true gift of Christmas is Jesus. The best gifts we can give to others at Christmas are not expensive presents. The best gift we can share is the love, joy, and peace of the Lord. We do so by our prayers for others, kind words and gestures, forgiveness, a welcoming home, and joyful witness. Material gifts have value too, when they are expressions of love and generosity. And let us not forget the poor in our gift-giving at Christmas! It is a wonderful custom in our diocese to take up a special collection for Catholic Charities at all our Christmas Masses, an opportunity to support the charitable works of the Church in our diocese, to share with our brothers and sisters in need.
I encourage you to prepare for Christmas by contemplating Mary and Joseph: “Mary, the woman full of grace who had the courage to entrust herself totally to the Word of God; and Joseph, the faithful and just man who chose to believe the Lord rather than listen to the voices of doubt and human pride. With them, let us walk together toward Bethlehem” (Pope Francis).
May this final week of Advent be a prayerful time of joyful preparation for Christmas! Through the intercession of Mary and Joseph, may we be free of all worldliness and ready to welcome anew our Savior!
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