|Promenade of St Joseph and Jesus Murillo (1617-82)|
The readings for this week form a bridge between Advent and Christmas. The Gospel begins the story of Christ’s Nativity which is about to unfold in longer readings on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and then Epiphany. At the same time it looks back to the ancient promise of a Messiah, and directly quotes the prophet Isaiah in the famous passage that provides the Old Testament lesson for this Sunday.Since we are still in Advent, we have only the start of the story in brief. Yet this short passage does something very special -- it enables us, unusually, to focus on the distinctive role of Joseph in the Gospel of God. Since Jesus owes his humanity, as well as his Jewish identity, to his earthly mother Mary, she has had a widely acknowledged theological role in the mystery of the Incarnation. Yet in a quite different way, Joseph also has a key part to play in God’s salvation history, since he too could have accepted or rejected it.
|Swedish Madonna Anders Zorn (1900)|
All the time he had at hand an easy as well as a socially approved solution – ‘to dismiss her quietly’. The angelic voice in the dream tells him to do otherwise, but it relies, of course, on his having the spiritual insight and moral courage to accept that advice. His reward is to be accorded parental status by being giving the task of naming the baby. As it turns out, this is no small reward. Paul declares to the Christians at Rome in this week’s Epistle that their whole calling – like ours – is ‘for the sake of that name’. And at the name of Jesus, he tells us elsewhere, every knee shall bow.