A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 4)
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A – December 19, 2004
“Jesus, Born of Mary, the Betrothed of Joseph”
Is 7:10-14 // Rom 1:1-7 // Mt 1:18-24
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Steven Gemmen’s story, “Where Love Grows” in GUIDEPOSTS magazine (October 2004, cf. p. 44-48) is a touching account of how he welcomed into his life the child conceived by his wife, Heather, a victim of sexual assault. Steve narrates how his anger at the rapist found its outlet in the baby. In the sixth month of his wife’s rape-pregnancy, however, Steve was given the grace to understand that the little creature in his wife’s womb had nothing to do with the crime of the father, an unidentified African-American young man who broke into their home. Steve accepted the baby as his own although there were bad times. According to Steve: “And there would be strained moments because of the baby’s appearance – starting with the delivery. How do you explain to the staff in the maternity ward that a white couple will have a biracial baby? But what a beautiful, beautiful baby! Healthy, squalling, wriggling, perfect – our long awaited little girl … Our lives haven’t been the same since that terrible night. They never will be. I’d thought nothing could make me love this child. That’s true. Nothing can make us love anyone or anything. Love is not a choice. It is the sovereign gift of God. And it was his gift that the child who stirred within Heather would make the unbearable not just bearable but miraculous.”
Steve’s compassionate stance towards his wife and the baby made me appreciate even more the goodness of Joseph, foster-father and guardian of Jesus, born of Mary. This Sunday’s Gospel story concerns the birth of Jesus (Mt 1:18-24) and delineates the important role of Mary and Joseph, grandiose Advent figures, in salvation history. In the fulfillment of the messianic mission and divine saving plan, Mary and Joseph, the righteous man to whom she is betrothed, play a vital part. According to the biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington: “The story of Jesus’ birth is really an extension of the genealogy (Mt 1:1-17). Its primary concern is Jesus’ right to a place in the messianic genealogy through Joseph, and its climax comes in Joseph’s resolve to make Jesus a Davidic child by assuming the legal obligations of paternity.”
The evangelist Matthew begins his story with the following words: “This is how the birth of Jesus came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18). Confronted with the unexpected pregnancy of his betrothed, Joseph may have been deeply humiliated, angered and hurt. His plans to divorce Mary may presume his suspicion that she had been raped or seduced. As a man of honor and devout observer of the Old Testament law, Joseph could not take Mary as his wife (cf. Dt 22:23-27). As a man of goodness and compassion, he did not wish to expose Mary to the shameful trial of the woman suspected of adultery (cf. Num 5:11-31). He therefore decided to divorce her quietly. But an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and assured him not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife for it is through the Holy Spirit that the child in her womb was conceived. The angel said to Joseph: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). According to Matthew all this took place to fulfill the prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (cf. Is 7:14). After explaining that Emmanuel means “God is with us”, Matthew tells us that when Joseph woke up he did what the angel commanded him to do: he took his wife into his home.
The great German theologian, Karl Rahner reflects on the vital role of Joseph in salvation history as presented in this Gospel: “Joseph is the foster-father and guardian of the child, not just because his wedded bride has conceived a child from heaven, but because God himself wished him to take the place of a father to the Son of God who has come to save the world. This is why Joseph is told to give a name to the child; this is why Joseph is addressed as son of David since Jesus himself will be known and acknowledged as the son of David precisely because his earthly father is a son of David stemming from that royal lineage. Thus from our reading of this text we can see heaven entrusting to the care of Joseph the savior of the world. Through this message from above Joseph is drawn into the great, public, official story of salvation. He acts no longer in the purely private capacity of bridegroom and later husband of Mary, but plays an official role in salvation history. He is the guardian and protector of the Son of God, directly appointed to that office, and not just drifting into this relationship with the divine child through the accident of his betrothal to Mary. We too are often called to be guardians of the Holy One in ourselves, in our lives, in our work … We are all asked whether the task of guarding this Son of God whom we meet in others will find us as true as Joseph, of whom it is said: he was faithful, he took the child and his mother to himself, he spent his whole life guarding the child so that it might become in truth the savior and the life of the world.”
With regards to Is 7:14 text (“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son …”) cited by the evangelist Matthew, Adrian Leske comments: “In its historical context the quotation from Is 7:14 was a sign given by the prophet to King Ahaz who had been threatened by two kings of the north. The prophet warned the king to maintain his trust in YHWH and not to seek other alliances, for by the time a young woman conceived and bore a son she will be able to call him Immanuel, ‘God is with us’, out of thankfulness that God had delivered Judah from this crisis. The name of the anonymous woman’s child was a message of hope.”
Matthew’s main purpose in citing this Isaiah text (7:14) was to emphasize that through the birth of Jesus, the people of God would be able to experience his saving presence once again. Indeed, the people whom Jesus saves from their sins will be able to recognize him as “God with us” and relish his abiding presence until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20). Matthew thus shows that Jesus, who ushers in the messianic age, is the Emmanuel – the “God with us” by conception and the messianic “Son of David” by adoption, through Joseph’s legal paternity.
The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) contemplates the role of Mary as the ever virgin mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “It is indeed fitting in every respect that when God decided to become incarnate for the sake of the whole human race none but a virgin should be his mother, and that, since a virgin was privileged to bring him into the world, she should bear no other son but the son who is God …And so Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, the child of her own flesh and blood. She brought forth the God who had been born of God before creation began, and who, in his created humanity, rightfully surpassed the whole creation.” Indeed, according to Adrian Leske, “the virginal conception of Mary points to the divine nature of Jesus’ sonship, his unique relationship with God, so that when Jesus is seen as God’s presence among the people of Israel the presence is that of God’s beloved Son.”
In this Advent season of immediate preparation for Christmas, we too are called not only to be guardians of the “Son of God” whom we meet in others, but also to be like Mother Mary in letting Christ be born, grow and live in us. Blessed James Alberione, the founder of the Pauline Family and great evangelizer using the modern means of social communications, exhorts us: “Let us await joyfully the day of Christmas when Mary would place the Child in our hearts as she laid him down on the hay, in the manger. For us it should not be just a mere remembering of the historical fact that occurred on that night in the grotto of Bethlehem. That historical fact was the principal event of human history because it initiated the Christian era. And so we count the years from that day. Indeed, that was the greatest event for humanity and for all history and is represented so in the Christmas crib. That was a historical memory. What is represented now is the birth of Jesus in our hearts. He is living and true as he was then. It is Mary herself who places him very tenderly in our hearts, with her virginal hands, so that Jesus may live in us.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Are we willing to fulfill the role of St. Joseph as guardians of the Holy One in ourselves, in our lives, in our work? How do we imitate the sterling virtues of St. Joseph who spent his whole life guarding Jesus so that he might become in truth the savior and the life of the world?
B. Do we experience the abiding and saving presence of Jesus, the Emmanuel – “God with us”? How do we make his salvation known to others?
C. In the spirit of Mary, the ever virgin Mother of God, how do we let Jesus be born, grow and live in us?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: Loving Father, we thank you for St. Joseph who accepted wholeheartedly his role in saving history as guardian, foster-father and protector of your Son Jesus, our Savior, the Emmanuel – “God with us”. Help us to be a “true Joseph” in today’s world by taking care of the “needy Jesus” whom we see in the poor and suffering, and the victims of violence and injustice. Like St. Joseph, assist us to be honorable and compassionate in every way, and obedient to your divine plan. Like Mary, help us to be receptive to divine grace and allow Jesus to be formed in us. May our Christmas this year be meaningful and bedecked with acts of kindness and self-giving. In our celebration of Jesus’ birth, may we truly experience his gifts of love, joy and peace for he our saving Lord, now and forever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.” (Mt 1:23)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: In this immediate preparation for Christmas, pray for expectant mothers and the life of the unborn. Offer an act of charity to the poor and the most vulnerable members of your community.
B. ACTION PLAN: Spend an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As an aid to prayer, please visit the PDDM Website for the following: EUCHARISTIC ADORATION through the Liturgical Year (# 4): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
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