ADVENT PONDERINGS 4
St. Matthew goes on to tell us that the angel then appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him (addressing him with his full, honorable title), “Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.” His intuition is verified! This truly has been the work of God and God’s messenger is telling him to proceed in his marriage! Joseph must surely have been thrown into exhilarating joy tinged with wonder at what all of this meant. The Gospel text continues, “When Joseph awoke he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him….” We can almost see him running through the streets in the early morning dawn to Mary’s house. With reverent and eager awe he must have told her, “God has revealed your secret to me. Come now into my home to be my wife.” Joseph was entrusted by God to be the guardian of Mary’s virginity and the guardian of her secret. He kept both trusts inviolably to the end of his life.
How the young bride and groom must have rejoiced and talked together about all of these events – about what the title “Son of the Most High” meant, and about what giving him “the name Jesus because He would save His people from their sins” meant. How exceedingly happy they were together in their poor, little home awaiting the birth of this Child whom neither of them fully understood. “What manner of child would this be?” as had been queried at the birth of his cousin John.
Then when Joseph came home one evening with the news of the decree from King Herod that they must leave their home and go to Bethlehem to register for the census, Mary must have received this news with mixed emotions. She surely could not have liked the idea of traveling so far from her home and all the things she held dear when she was so near to the delivery of her Son. And yet, perhaps, there was also some sigh of new expectancy and joy as she recalled one of the prophecies she had heard proclaimed in the synagogue at the Sabbath celebrations, “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the princes of Judah, since from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel”. Mary knew well the exalted vocation of her nation as did all of her people. Hers was not a sterile waiting for this expected ruler. She had surely prayed for his coming and studied and pondered everything she heard about him. One who was capable of singing the song of the Magnificat was indeed one who had retained many of the prophecies she had heard proclaimed in the synagogue Sabbath after Sabbath since she was a child. Was this call to Bethlehem another indication of who this child in her womb would be? Was there some connection between the familiar title “Messiah” and the title the angel had spoken, “Son of the Most High”?, between the angel’s description “He who would rule over the house of Jacob forever” and the prophet’s description, “a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel?” Was this call to Bethlehem another opening of Mary and Joseph’s minds to God’s magnificent plan which would eventually reach out to encompass all mankind?
Now with her heart and mind brimming with angelic messages and ancient prophecies and her womb fruitful with the Son of God, Mary with her husband, Joseph, promptly set out to make her way to the city of their ancestors. The rest of the story is plainly laid open for us in the Gospel of St. Luke. We have only to watch and adore as it reaches its climax with more angelic voices “singing mad songs above Bethlehem plains.”(3)
1 from a homily by Father Gregory Kant
2 from “Exile in the Stars” by Father James Donehue