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Reflection for the Vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Advent

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Elizabeth Carrillo, OSB | December 17, 2022

Here we are at the darkest time of the year; we’ve just lit the last candle on our Advent wreath, warding off the darkness, holding fast to the promised coming of God’s saving Light. The Gospel for this Sunday; however, begins not with light, angels, shepherds or a star, but with Joseph, a just and righteous man, navigating a crisis of faith – his own dark night of the soul as he grapples with the cold, hard fact: beyond any reasonable explanation, Mary is pregnant, before they have been joined together in marriage.

Balancing the requirements of the Law against an implausible story of an angel and the overshadowing of God’s Spirit, Joseph decides to spare Mary the shame of public trial and possible death, and divorce her quietly. In this seemingly impossible situation of shame and humiliation, he applies the Law in the most merciful way he knows how. What other choice does he have? But, even this merciful response threatens to stand in the way of God’s plan of redemption – for it is through Joseph’s lineage that Jesus fulfills the prophecy as the promised Son of David.

Joseph has reached the limits of his human imagination and only God’s grace will get him past this – grace that comes in a dream, in an encounter with an angel that echoes Mary’s own annunciation. It is in the receptive, suspended reality of a dream that Joseph can move beyond his fears to embrace God’s Wisdom, and, like Mary, offer his own fiat. Joseph is entrusted with the identity of this Child. He is to be named Jesus, for he is the one who will save his people. He is the promised and long-awaited Emmanuel, God-With Us. Joseph awakes a new and different person, his heart and imagination expanded, able to embrace and participate in God’s saving purpose.

Joseph’s struggle is also ours. As John Shea observes, it “foreshadows the tension of all who will be drawn to Jesus. Is he a scandal to be rejected, or a manifestation of the Spirit to be welcomed?”

This same question is posed to each of us. How are we called to welcome Jesus in the unexpected and disruptive?

Perhaps the birth of Christ in each of us, and among us, takes place in those moments that confound our logic and shatter our expectations, moments that call us to trust in the voice that says “do not fear” so that we can welcome the impossible new Life coming into our midst. How are we called with Joseph to wake up? How will we choose to move forward in faith? With this question in mind I would like end with “A Prayer for Choosing” by Jan Richardson.

What we choose
changes us.

Who we love
transforms us.

How we create
remakes us.

Where we live
reshapes us.

So in all our choosing,
O God, make us wise;

in all our loving,
O Christ, make us bold;

in all our creating,
O Spirit, give us courage;

in all our living
may we become whole. 

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