Fourth Sunday of Advent

The readings for this Sunday are an immediate preparation for Christmas. Instead of hearing about the Second Coming of the Lord as we did the First Sunday of Advent and instead of hearing about the instructions and the mission of John the Baptist, as we did the Second and Third Sundays of Advent, we are brought to the events that take place within nine months of Jesus’ birth[1].

We come upon Joseph. A very disappointed Joseph. The beautiful young girl he would soon take into his home was pregnant. His life was falling apart around him. We don’t know the exact time that Joseph was aware of the problem, but obviously Mary was showing. What was Joseph thinking? Would he have forgiven Mary a supposed indiscretion if she were not pregnant? But she was pregnant. The child was ruining everything.

And then the angel came in the dream and told him that the child will make all things wonderful. He is the Savior. Mary has remained virtuous. And Joseph was given the opportunity to take the Messiah into his family. Basically, Joseph was told to celebrate this unexpected birth.

It seems that just about every Sunday I notice another one of our ladies is going to have a baby. As a man I have no clue at what it is like to have a baby inside you. As a priest, I have no experience of the excitement a husband must feel when his wife tells him that they are expecting. Those first few months, when it is their secret, must be wonderful. Then when they are ready to share their secret, family and friends celebrate the coming child. And every child has a right to have his or her coming celebrated.

That right extends also to those children whose coming, like the Lord’s, is not expected, whether their parents thought they were done have children or whether their parents did not even consider that their actions could would lead to their conception. It makes not difference. Once the coming of a child is learned, the child should be celebrated.

On Monday evening and on Tuesday we will sing sweet carols about the Babe of Bethlehem. Although we know that this is the Second Person of the Trinity, the All Powerful One, we also know that he chose to become one of us, totally one of us, even being conceived and carried in a womb and being an infant, toddler, child, teen and young adult before revealing himself to the world at his Baptism by John the Baptist. And so we focus on his infancy. We tell him in song to "sleep in heavenly peace." We sing of the unexpected joy.

Every child has a right to be celebrated with love. Every child has a right to be carried inside and outside the Mom with deep love. Every child is a joy, whether a planned joy or an unexpected joy.

We have a responsibility as Christians to celebrate the pregnancy of our girls and the arrival of our babies. They are all our babies. They are part of our family. They are made in the image and likeness of God. They will receive the indelible imprint of God at their baptism. They will radiate his presence in a way the world never experienced before. They will be capable of being saviors, saviors to their parents, saving them from selfishness, saviors to those whom they will love in their lives.

It is clear from the scripture that Joseph provided for more than Jesus’s external needs. He loved the child. He took him into his family. He named him. And, I feel certain, he held him and rocked him to sleep when Mary was exhausted. He celebrated this unexpected child and in doing so celebrated the presence of God’s love on earth.

We pray to St. Joseph today to help us to do what he did. We need to care for, to love and to celebrate our babies. In doing so we are celebrating the arrival of yet another reflection of the presence of God on earth.

[1] Sunday 23rd December, 2007; 4th Sunday of Advent. St John of Kenty. Isaiah 7:10-14. Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory-Ps 23(24):1-6. Romans 1:1-7. Matthew 1:18-24.
Ilustration: La Tour's mature pictures form a close-knit group which must date from the years immediately before and after 1640. None of them is documented, although some of them are signed. The most typical and one of the best preserved of them is the so-called Dream of Joseph at Nantes, which in many respects forms a microcosm of La Tour's art and the problems which surround it, in terms of both history and the interpretation of the subject. As recently as 1913 it was attributed to Rembrandt, although the picture was clearly signed La Tour in the top right-hand corner. It is interesting that an illustrious name should have been sought for so magical a picture, and the subject, even now, is as elusive as was the former difficulty of attribution. A youth in biblical costume is making a beckoning or announcing gesture before an old man who has fallen asleep reading a book. The traditional interpretation is that it is a Dream of Joseph, even though Joseph is normally shown as a carpenter (as he is in La Tour's Louvre picture). The youth is hardly the angel Gabriel either, coming to warn Joseph to flee to Egypt in order to escape the impending massacre of all children in Bethlehem by Herod's soldiers. A possible explanation for this enigmatic picture is that it depicts the moment when the young Samuel, having been, he thinks, summoned by the elderly priest Eli, finds him asleep. This surprises Samuel, who at that instant realizes that it is God's voice calling him. If this interpretation of the subject is correct, La Tour has with characteristic subtlety and understatement shown the exact moment when the youth Samuel arrives before the sleeping old man, with a 'here I am' gesture. Samuel's pose is unforgettable. All attempts at the naturalism with which La Tour is so wrongly credited have been abandoned, leaving a Mannerist twisting of the fingers and the caprice of shielding most of the candle flame. Above all, there is an exquisite stillness, which pervades not only this picture but also the other all-too-few masterpieces from this period.
Georges La Tour, The Dream of St Joseph (1640), Oil on canvas, 93 x 81 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts (Nantes).

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris