|El Greco - St Joseph and the Christchild|
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.
|Sorolla - Virgin Mary (1887)|
Nowadays, single parents and unmarried mothers are a thoroughly familiar part of life. As a result, it takes real imaginative effort to appreciate the significance of Mary’s highly unorthodox pregnancy in a culture so different to our own. At the annunciation Mary memorably says ‘be it unto me according to your word’. The great courage and deep faith that this reveals, is matched by Joseph’s response, however. Confronted with such devastating news, it would be natural for anyone to feel an intense personal affront and rejection. But Joseph had to face this further prospect -- acute embarrassment, ridicule, and social contempt.
All the time close at hand there was 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. Every time we do so, we have good reason to remember Joseph.