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Evang./Prof. Michael P. Howard, MACS

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. (Mt 1:18-24)

Before looking at the gospel of Matthew for the fourth Sunday in Advent, let's glance at the second reading from the book of Romans. The first line is intriguing. St. Paul gives a testimony of purpose, "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God..." (Rom. 1:1). In this one verse, Paul identified himself as a person who knew Christ, he gave his whole being to Christ. Next, Paul recognized that he was an apostle sent by Christ to share the good news. Finally, and I like this section, Paul proclaimed that he was set apart for the gospel of God. Here Paul understood that he must live a righteous, holy, and blameless lifestyle for the gospel of God.

After reflecting on Paul's words, I asked myself how much confidence we would have in pronouncing such a daring statement as Paul's. Again, the scripture said, "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God." Honestly, I wonder if I can express such a bold statement in my faith walk. However, when studying Matthew's gospel for this Advent Sunday, I truly believe that Joseph, the husband of Mary, could articulate a statement similar to Paul's comment in the book of Romans.

The scripture teaches us that Joseph was a righteous man. Unfortunately, we do not have stories or testimonies about why Joseph was considered righteous. Neither do we have any record of wise sayings or quotes by Joseph in the scriptures. Nevertheless, we have three essential aspects of Joseph's life that coincide with Paul's testimony. The scriptures remind us that Joseph was unwilling to shame Mary because he was not the baby's father. Next, Joseph valued the dignity of life and decided to divorce Mary quietly. Finally, Joseph also listened to divine words from an angel, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home." Church, here is a man who listened to the angel's direction during a very perplexing situation, chose Jewish customs, or followed the spiritual guidance of an angel.

In Matthew's gospel narrative, we see a righteous man! Joseph was willing to uphold a woman's dignity in opposition to a cultural practice that promoted the crazy attitude that it is a man's world. Furthermore, when living a righteous life, one must follow divine direction. Joseph sought the common good for his beloved wife. He helped Mary flourish as a human being with the most precious gift in her womb. With inner peace from the angel, Joseph helped usher into the world the baby Jesus, who would be the world's Savior.

Yes, Joseph was a servant. He accepted the responsibility of custodial care for the baby Jesus. Joseph was set apart for the gospel of God. How about us? Are we ready to be a slave to Christ? Can we set apart from us those creature comforts that delay our proclamation of the gospel of God? The world needs our witness today. Christ is coming soon. You better watch out.

This Christmas, be a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.

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