Sunday, 22 December 2013

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 1:18-24; Isa 7:10-14
We have just 3 days to go now before Christmas, and so we’re in our final stage of preparation: both physically and in the Church’s liturgy.
This Sunday, the final one before Christmas, the Church always turns our focus to Our Lady, to look to her to help us bring the Christ-child into our lives. But this year, Year A in the 3-year lectionary, we also have the figure of St Joseph. And both of them give us simple but vital examples of what we must do, what we must be like, if we are to let Christ in this Christmas.
I’d like to point out, in particular, the way that the two of them behaved towards each other.

First, St Joseph. As we heard in that account, he found out that Our Lady was “with child” –and not by him. As any of us can imagine, that would have been a tough thing for him to take.
I’d like to point out his forgiving and tolerant response to this. He could have sent her away in public disgrace, but he “wanted to spare her publicity” and so was going to do so “informally” (Mt 1:19).

Second, Our Lady. Let us note that she doesn’t seem to make any great deal of justifying herself before St Joseph. Defending ourselves, self-justification, are common human actions, often linked with selfishness in how we seek to defend our honour.
But Lady takes another path, and the Lord steps in for her before St Joseph, just as the Lord had stepped in to ask her to receive the child.

Thirdly, ourselves. Christmas, and family and other personal interactions, can sadly be time of the opposite of what we just heard.
In frayed tempers over organising things with others,
in mistakes that we make,
in the little things in which people let us down,
we can be unforgiving and self-justifying:
“It wasn’t ME who forgot to buy the Brussels sprouts…”
“It’s not my fault the shop was out of sprouts –you should have reminded me beforehand!”
[Apparently a recent TV show and survey showed that nobody actually likes Brussels sprouts away, we just eat them at Christmas because it’s traditional. Regardless…]

So, let’s remember in these days ahead to be like Our Lady, and not be overly keen seek to justify ourselves before others in our various failings;
And to be like St Joseph, and be forgiving and tolerant of what seem to be the faults of others –for one thing, maybe there are explanations we don’t know about, just as St Joseph found.

And if we do that, then we can expect to find that for us too, “the maiden [will be] with child”(Isa 7:14) and a child will be born for us, Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’.

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