On this last Sunday of Advent, our Gospel calls us to reflect on Joseph, not Mary or Jesus. Why?
As our time of preparation and waiting in Advent draws to a close, we find ourselves listening to St. Matthew’s account of how Joseph became an important part of the first Advent. In some ways, the example of Joseph is the perfect pivot point as we move from anticipation to reality in the Incarnation, celebrated all through the liturgical season of Christmas. How?
St. Matthew tells us that “Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” There is so much we would like to know about how this came about! Did Mary try to explain to Joseph the impossible story of the Annunciation? Or did she, instead, keep the explanation to herself and simply acknowledge to Joseph that she was “with child”? We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that Mary’s pregnancy presented a challenge to Joseph, her betrothed husband. In that day, betrothal was a binding legal relationship, like marriage, even before the couple lived together to consummate it. A betrothal could only be ended by death or divorce. Joseph was a “righteous man.” He decided to “divorce her quietly” so that she would be spared public exposure. Why did Joseph believe he had to divorce Mary? One possibility is that although Joseph thought this mysterious pregnancy meant Mary had been unfaithful, he still loved her too much to cause her humiliation. Another possibility is that Joseph understood that the mysterious pregnancy of his devout betrothed (remember, even an archangel addressed her as “full of grace”) made it highly unsuitable for him to marry her. Even if Mary had not explained the cause of her pregnancy at all, her devout life would have convinced Joseph that something very magnificent was underway in her. For that reason, he would not be able to take her into his home, out of simple reverence, but he must do all that he could to spare her any shame. This latter scenario fits the details we do have better, but, either way, what a dilemma! ….