Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Mt 1:28-24.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

I am one of those people who is convinced that the Holy Spirit is constantly working overtime to inspire individuals to love, to be generous, to sacrifice, to trust, and to rise above themselves.

The Holy Spirit fills our minds and our hearts, perhaps at the least expected moments, with generous impulses, with the names and faces of individuals we know, with proddings to make unexpected sacrifices, with inspirations to embrace or comfort people who are hurting.

I am convinced that everyone who draws breath can attest to experiences such as these when seemingly out of nowhere an overwhelming feeling comes over us to act.

Sometimes we dismiss it as having watched too many sappy, feel-good, tear-jerking, happy ending movies. Or, we have just finished a biography about some great figure who epitomizes complete goodness and purity and we feel energized and challenged to emulate him or her.

There are times that I wish Matthew could have spent a few more minutes writing sections of his Gospel so that figures like Joseph could have more of that inspirational effect. After one reading of the Gospel for this Sunday I may say to myself -- Oh, I get it, Matthew is simply pausing for a moment to explain to us how it is that Joseph was brought on board with this whole plan to bring the savior into the world. It is almost as if one could read the passage with imaginary brackets around it as if it was an editorial note to establish why Joseph did not drop Mary like a hot potato. Or sometimes I imagine that Matthew had written a beautifully detailed account of this scene involving Joseph and his copy editor handed it back saying -- Okay, just the facts, we need to keep this thing under 28 chapters!

However, on a second, third or fourth reading one might be able to begin to see the and feel the messiness of the situation and the courage and boldness with which Joseph responded.

We know how the story ends. We have 2000 years of Christological developments. We may say to ourselves -- Well of course Joseph did as the angel said and took Mary into his home -- SHE IS THE MOTHER OF GOD!

Nevertheless, let us not forget that Joseph was not informed that his betrothed wife was with Child by the angel, but BEFORE the visit of the angel. What did the reception of that news about Mary feel like? What emotions did that evoke? It is never spelled out for us. All we know is that Joseph, who was a righteous man, decided to divorce Mary quietly so as not to cause a stir. It is hard to believe that it was not a harsh disappointment for Joseph nonetheless.

We have all been in positions where we have been severely disappointed or let down by a person or by a situation but we have somehow found the strength to act nobly and discretely so as not to make a bad situation worse.

Further, before I even think of the content of the message of the angel I have to pause and think about the mode of delivery itself. Zecheriah gets a visit. Mary gets a visit. Even Cornelius in Acts of the Apostles gets a visit. Joseph gets a dream. I know it sounds like I am being nit picky, but I think a personal visit or even a daytime vision would have been a nice touch. Perhaps this is what makes the response of Joseph all the more courageous and wonderful.

He is told in a dream the most mind-bending information about the young women he is about to divorce and about the child who is growing within her. The news could not have been more shocking or more unreasonable (against all that is reasonable); yet his response is to do what he was told. The angel knew that he would be afraid -- hence the words of the angel -- Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

Joseph was not a puppet on a string. He was not bereft of free will. There is not doctrine about his immaculate conception or sinlessness. Yet he responded with generosity. He responded with faith. He listened to this message from God told to him in a dream. He rose above his fear. He rose above his confusion. He did not know how the story was going to end other than knowing that this child was going to save his people from their sins. The words -- HE DID AS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD COMMANDED should be inspirational to all of us. They are simple words yet behind them stands a man who should inspire us to respond generously to every prompting of the Holy Spirit in us to do as the Lord commands.

Let us challenge and inspire each other to always listen to this Divine Voice in our hearts, in our heads, and in our dreams. Let us never dismiss generous and loving impulses that seem to come out of nowhere. We may never know their overall effect in the world.

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