Sunday, Dec. 18, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14, Psalms 24:1-6, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-24

Starting today, the readings all week feature the family members of Jesus, giving us beautiful advice for how to treat our own families.

First, assume the best about others and sacrifice for what is good and noble in them. The Gospel makes a point of saying that “since he was a righteous man” Joseph “decided to divorce her quietly,” when he found out Mary was pregnant.

Why would a righteous man divorce his pregnant wife?  Realize the irony in this passage. A righteous Jewish man, upon finding his betrothed pregnant, has one path, according to the Law. He should denounce her for adultery.

But imagine what would have happened after Joseph “quietly” left Mary: He would suddenly disappear from the scene, and people would talk. Soon, Mary’s pregnancy would be obvious, and since he said nothing, people would assume the worse: Joseph impregnated Mary and then left her in shame.

So Joseph was willing to make himself look bad, in order to spare Mary.

Do we do the same thing? Do we assume the best about our family members? Such trust can help transform our loved ones and ourselves.

Second, be willing to share your family with the world. After Mary, St. Joseph gets his own annunciation, when the angel Gabriel tells him, “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus.”

Notice, the angel doesn’t say, “Mary will bear you a son.” The angel doesn’t even allow Joseph the ability to name his own firstborn son. Because Mary’s son isn’t for him. Her son is for all of us.

How does Joseph react? “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”

St. John Paul II liked this line so much he opened his document on St. Joseph with it. By his selfless attitude toward his own family, Joseph became a guardian of us all, St. John Paul said: “Just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, that is, the Church.”

How about us? Do we watch over our children, family members and friends in a similar way?

Third, read and believe the Scriptures. St. Jerome says that these words are placed in the middle of St. Joseph’s story to suggest that Joseph knew today’s first reading and believed it: “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.’”

Joseph knew his Scriptures, presumably because he read them and meditated on them. And he was “a doer of the word and not a hearer only.”

Do we know the Scriptures? Do we live them? Can anyone tell?          

May we strive to imitate St. Joseph as we finish preparing our hearts for Christmas.

Tom Hoopes is writer

in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,

and the author of What Pope Francis Really Said

(2016, Servant).