‘Do Not Be Afraid’: Lessons on Faith and Trust From Mary and Joseph as We Journey Toward Christmas
User’s Guide to Dec. 18, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
We tend to sentimentalize the Christmas story as we think of the Baby Jesus in the manger, but we must also be prayerfully sober about how difficult that first Christmas was and about the heroic virtue required of Mary and Joseph in order to cooperate with God in making it come to pass.
Let’s look at this Gospel in three stages: distress, direction and decision.
“When 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.”
Joseph was a “righteous man.” And to our ears this is like saying that he was a “good man.” But more accurately, it meant Joseph was also an “observer of the Law.” He would thus do what the Law prescribed. This explains his decision to divorce Mary because of her apparent lack of virginity prior to the marriage. The Mosaic Law forbade a man to marry in such a case (e.g., Deuteronomy 22:20-21).
We can see what a difficult and dangerous position Mary’s “Yes” to the angel placed her. She risked her very life by being found with child outside the normal marital act with her husband.
We know that it is by the Holy Spirit she conceives, but her family and Joseph and his family do not yet, or at least cannot verify it. It is a great testimony to her faith and trust in God that she said “Yes” to God’s plans.
“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.’”
The principal exhortation of the angel was that Joseph “not be afraid” to take Mary as his wife. This exhortation is powerful because Joseph had much to fear. Joseph could easily be rejected by his family for taking Mary in. The community could likewise shun him — and as a businessman, Joseph needed a good reputation to be able to ply his trade — if Joseph “brings evil” into his house rather than purging the (apparent) evil from the midst of his house. But the angel directs him not to fear; this will take courageous faith.
Joseph has to trust and discern; he has a decision to make.
“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
We can see the strong faith of Joseph and the kind of trust he had to put in God. He had been told not to be afraid. He makes the decision to obey God — whatever the cost. We are given no information about how his family and others in the town reacted. However, the fact that the Holy family later settles back in Nazareth indicates that God did come through on his promise that Joseph need not be afraid.
Heroes of Faith!
Recognize the crisis of that first Christmas and the powerful faith of Joseph and Mary: Their reputations were on the line, if not their very lives. They had great sacrifices to make in the wondrous incarnation of Our Lord.
Quite simply, Mary and Joseph are great heroes of the faith. For neither of them was their “Yes” easy. It is often hard to obey God. Praise God that they made their decision and obeyed.
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