On Dec. 25, Christians throughout the world will direct their eyes to the crèche, remembering…
Opening the Word: Joseph the dreamer
In the previous weeks of Advent, we have contemplated the entrance of Christ into history, looking ahead to the second coming of Jesus. These weeks of Advent focus our attention on the violence of history, the bloodlust of men and women, and the way God’s kingdom spells the end of the reign of sin and death.
But on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we turn ahead to the feast of Christmas. For many of us, we’ve already turned our attention to this feast. Our Christmas tree decorates the home. We have bought gifts for loved ones. Meals have been purchased. We’re ready.
For this reason, the Church ought to give us a pleasant Gospel text, one that gets us into a Christmas spirit. Some years on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we’re invited to contemplate Mary’s great “yes.” We ponder the gift that Mary has received, readying ourselves to receive this same gift on the 25th of December.
But the Church has not given us this Gospel this year. Instead, we come face to face with the strangeness of Joseph.
|Dec. 22 — Fourth Sunday of Advent|
Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
We don’t know much about Joseph. He was a righteous man, the adopted father of Jesus. Matthew clarifies that he is in the line of David, making Jesus a Davidic king. He walks along with Mary to Bethlehem to take part in the census. In Matthew, he leaves Bethlehem to take his family into exile in Egypt. Like Mary, he loses his son in the Temple.
But mostly silence.
We do know something else about Joseph. He’s a dreamer just like his namesake in Genesis. But unlike his namesake, Joseph is not infected by the desire for power, the desire to interpret his dreams to make his brothers bend down before him.
Jesus’ Joseph is a righteous dreamer.
But before he dreams, he learns about the pregnancy of his betrothed. Rather than see Mary suffer shame, perhaps even death, he decides to end the betrothal here and now. It will be a quiet affair, one in which he will enact no violence against his beloved.
In this moment of righteousness, God intervenes. The child is not the result of an illicit union but God’s very power! Mary is like those women in the Old Testament who give birth in surprising ways.
She is like Sarah, who gives birth to Isaiah well after menopause.
She is like Hannah, who gives birth to Samuel after years of tears and prayers.
But unlike Sarah and Hannah, she has given birth without man. She has given birth entirely through God’s own power.
Joseph recognizes the meaning of the dream without assistance. He obeys as soon as he wakes up, taking Mary as his spouse, taking Jesus as his son.
Maybe, there’s a wisdom to the Church’s decision to give us this reading right before Christmas. The task of Christmas is not just to celebrate a birth. Instead, like Joseph, we must be dreamers.
The Christ who comes at Christmas is not an abstract babe, a hypothetical person. He is the Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father.
The question we must ask ourselves: Have we made a space to welcome him? Have we listened to the voice of God, making room for Christ and his mother?
Even if there are only three days left, there is still time. There’s time not just to deck the halls, but to deck our hearts, welcoming Emmanuel, God in our midst.
We need only follow righteous Joseph, the dreamer.
If we but dared to dream such dreams.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.