This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. , because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
The Gospel of the Lord
Sunday Gospel Reflection
Sunday, December 22, 2019
by Brigid Rose Tiernan, SNDdeN
St Joseph has centre place in the Gospel passage chosen for the fourth Sunday of Advent this year. Our journey in the liturgy of the Church through this and every advent places other biblical characters before us, but this Sunday seems to be the first time that we meet Mary’s husband-to-be. The gospels tell us so little about him, but this passage in Matthew speaks volumes about the kind of man he was. We read about how sensitively he deals with Mary, his betrothed, on hearing that she is expecting a child that is not his. His response is one that wants to spare Mary the pain, humiliation and rejection that she could expect from her family and community as they react to a woman found to be pregnant out of wedlock. The gospel of this Sunday tells us of his thoughtfulness towards her… his own disappointment and pain are not referred to in the passage. Then he has a dream, and he is sufficiently ‘tuned in’ to hear the message of the dream and to carry it out, obedient to his faith (Rom 1:6), irrespective of the consequences. He takes Mary as his wife, he accompanies her through the final months of her pregnancy and knows that when the time comes the son she will bring into the world is to be named Jesus.
As I write this reflection from where I live in South Africa, our country is coming to the end of the annual December campaign – SIXTEEN DAYS of activism against violence to women and children, during which men are called to be human and respectful in all their dealings with women and their offspring. I have not thought before that Mary was perhaps saved from violence by Joseph, whose action makes him a model of protection and care for women and their unborn children. South Africa is not alone in sharing this terrible scourge: violence done to women, especially those who are trafficked or forced into prostitution through circumstances beyond their control. May these women and those who minister among them draw courage from knowing that the one who brought Jesus into the world must have suffered considerable fear in the early days of her pregnancy, wondering how her family and community would treat her ‘obedience in faith’.
Joseph’s obedience to the message he received in the dream finds him in the role of ‘midwife’ of sorts – midwife originally meaning ‘one who is with the mother’. His ‘midwifery’ lasts throughout Mary’s final months of carrying Jesus in her womb, on the journey he had to undertake with her despite her advanced pregnancy, and during his accompaniment of her and care for her material needs when her time came to deliver her child. This fourth Sunday of Advent and the few remaining days before Christmas call each of us to be, in Joseph’s footsteps, midwives wherever we are to the small and not so small ways in which our God manifests Godself to us in our day to day encounters and happenings. While the celebration of Christmas, which is on our doorstep now, is a celebration of the human birth of Jesus, God-with-us, it is also a wake-up call to each of us to remember that God is present in every moment of our lives, in every interaction and circumstance, whether good or bad. Is our ‘midwifery’ to life’s daily revelation of the Divine, to ‘God-with-us’, characterized by the same selflessness and thoughtfulness for others, the same obedience to God, the same listening to God speaking in our deepest being, that we find in Joseph?
And are we willing to accept the consequences of this listening in faith, whether it be to journey to Bethlehem or Egypt, into the vaguely familiar or into the complete unknown? Let us hold each other in our hearts as we walk through these last days of Advent, in the company of Joseph, the strong and gentle man, ‘midwife’ to Mary, mother-to-be of Emmanuel, God with us.
Meet Brigid Rose Tiernan, SNDdeN
Brigid Rose Tiernan has been in Notre Dame since 1963. She was born in Bulawayo Zimbabwe, grew up in Zambia, but attended the Notre Dame Convent in Kroonstad, South Africa, where she discovered her call to be a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She obtained a BA degree before joining the SNDs, and as an SND had the opportunity to study further in the field of Education. She has been a High School Teacher, a trainer for Justice and Peace – a life-long passion – and, latterly, has added Organisational Development and Facilitation skills to her repertoire. She lives in Johannesburg and continues her leadership in her ministry of education. She works in the ZimSA archives…and loves the opportunity it gives her to get in touch with the stories that have made the Sisters of Notre Dame who they are today.