In the Gospel, the figure of Joseph offers us a powerful Advent prophecy this weekend.
Joseph’s wait was different from that of the others. For him, the reality of God moving in his life was a challenge to his faith, to his patience, to his honour. The movement of God in his life demanded of Joseph radical changes in his attitude toward himself, toward his future, toward the family he hoped to have, even toward the woman he loved and wanted to marry.
She was going to have a baby. And it wasn’t his. Marriage was now out of the question. He could denounce her publicly. If he did that, he would preserve his honour in the eyes of society. But Mary would be publicly humiliated and probably executed by stoning.
The other choice was really to do nothing; say nothing to anyone, get Mary as far way as possible, resign himself to never seeing her again, then ride out the storm in silence.
Joseph was the perfect example of what the Old Testament calls a ‘just man’. He acted on the basis of his values, on his sense of righteousness, rather than on his grasp of the circumstances. He didn’t pull back from this disruption of his life. He faced it, he plunged into it, even if he had no idea where that plunge would lead him.
It is intriguing to see that it is only after Joseph had struggled his way through this reflection and discussion, that he was given a share in God’s own understanding and began to realise just how truly new his life was to be…that what seemed to be human weakness, betrayal, and infidelity, was in fact the hand of God reshaping his life, reshaping the world.
Joseph could have wallowed in self-pity and bitterness, and no one would have blamed him. But he didn’t. He chose rather to open himself up to a loving relationship he couldn’t possibly understand or predict, a future he would never have chosen for himself.
Joseph too, must colour our lifelong Advent wait for the coming of Christ. He teaches us to be sure that we do not become so taken up with our own design that we do not notice it when Christ comes into our lives in his own way, on his own terms. He teaches us to be aware of and not to fear the fact that the reality of the incarnation, if we see it as it is, will make demands of us, will make changes in our lives, our plans, our expectations of ourselves and of one another.
So, to the hope of the prophet Isaiah, the trust of Mary, and the fervour of John, we add on this last Sunday of Advent the courage of Joseph. His too is an advent virtue. And it must be ours.