Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18, 2022
“When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, he took Mary as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24)
Trust is essential in our relationship with God. Trust promotes our positive action and collaboration with God’s will based on God’s faithfulness to ultimately do what God promises. On this fourth Advent Sunday, we meditate upon what it means to give God the gift of our trust, especially in times when we are in the dark – without full understanding – about what God is up to in our lives.
Two of the four gospels in the New Testament provide accounts of the birth of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew introduces Joseph as the recipient of the annunciation of the Christ Child and the knowledge of the child’s mission – “He shall save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).” In the gospel of Luke, on the other hand, the archangel announces the conception and the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Both accounts are similar but not the same.
Joseph, in Matthew’s account, had much to judge and decide after learning that Mary, his fiancee, was with a child not his own. Whatever he judges and decides to do will expose him to social shame and dishonour. If he denounces and repudiates Mary, Mary could be stoned to death for adultery according to a strict application of the law and Joseph would always be known as the man who was cheated on by his fiancee. If he abandons Mary and leaves her to be a single mother, he will be socially accused of being an absent and irresponsible father. Either way, Joseph faces a future of shame and dishonour. In his sense of justice and deep love for Mary, he decides to walk away from the relationship – “to dismiss Mary quietly” – and take the social hit to his reputation to protect Mary from harm and public disgrace.
In that moment of anguish. discernment and decision, God intervenes. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and addresses him as, “Joseph, son of David,” genealogically linking Joseph to both Jesus and to King David. The angel then instructs Joseph to “not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This angelic message only made sense to Joseph because he knew Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah!
The angel’s shedding of light (understanding) through the dream that God was at work in the situation overcame Joseph’s fears and gave Joseph the confidence to trust God, when his present situation was dark (absent of understanding). Joseph does as the angel commanded. He trusts God and takes Mary as his wife. He names the baby Jesus (as instructed by the angel) which means in Greek, God who is with us saves, and he becomes Jesus’ adoptive father. Joseph goes on to protect Mary and Jesus from harm by escaping and immigrating to and from Egypt when Jesus’ life was in danger (Matt. 2:13-23) and he provides for his family as a carpenter (Matt. 13:55).
Joseph moves through a season of discernment and judgment in efforts to seek clarity about what his next godly, righteous, and just steps were to be given his situation. God helped Joseph understand what was happening and the role Joseph was to undertake in the situation which gave Joseph the assurance to proceed with confidence even when he did not fully grasp or understand everything. Joseph trusts God in the dark.
This Christmas, we can offer God the gift of our trust, even when we do not fully understand what God is up to in our lives. We can trust God in the dark.