Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A). St. Joseph’s mission, waiting for Jesus - Emmanuel “God with us”

16 December 2022

Saint Malachy, Prophet; Saint Winebald OSB, Abbot

Is 7:10-14;
Ps 24;
Rom 1:1-7;
Mt 1:18-24

Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory


St. Joseph’s mission, waiting for Jesus - Emmanuel “God with us”

As the Homiletic Directory notes, “By the Fourth Sunday of Advent Christmas is very near. The mood of the liturgy shifts from the intense calls to conversion to a focus on the events immediately surrounding the birth of Jesus” (HD 96). Thus, today’s Gospel proposes that we meditate on “Joseph’s dream.” This episode, recounted only by the evangelist Matthew, is called by many the “annunciation to Joseph,” in parallel to the annunciation to Mary in Luke’s Gospel. What the angel told Joseph will also be important for us today, in the last stage of our preparation to celebrate the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Important insights about the mystery of Jesus’ “generation” and mission are revealed to us, and the Word of God suggests, accordingly, the right attitudes to welcome the divine child, “the one who comes” to save the world.

Therefore, we must necessarily re-enter the mystery divinely announced to Joseph and also to us in the liturgy, for a worthy preparation for the celebration of His nativity! To this end, the Gospel helps us due to some statements that are worth dwelling on again.

1.      “Thus was Jesus Christ begotten” - the mystery of Jesus’ “generation”

Firstly, the unfathomable nature of the mystery of Jesus’ conception is emphasized, “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” The divine origin of the unborn child, who as such escapes all human law or verification, is thus accentuated. This peculiar, indeed unique, origin is reaffirmed again, when the angel of the Lord, God’s messenger and His envoy, communicates God’s own message to Joseph, but also to every modern reader/listener: “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Therefore, this generation of Christ shows that He is above all the “Son of God” by nature and requires “the obedience of faith […] among all the Gentiles,” recalling St. Paul’s thought and expression at the beginning of the letter to the Romans (second reading).

On the other hand, spiritually speaking, such divine origin invites us, His disciples, to remember our participation in the same “mysterious generation” from God in Him, in order to be also “children of God.” St. John the Evangelist, in fact, states these words referring to Christians: “But to those who did accept him, he [Jesus-God’s Word] gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (Jn 1:12-13). This evangelical thought is developed in his sermons by Blessed Isaac of the Stella, abbot:  

The Son of God is the first-born of many brothers. Although by nature he is the only-begotten, by grace he has joined many to himself and made them one with him. For to those who receive him he has given the power to become the sons of God. He became the Son of man and made many men sons of God, uniting them to himself by his love and power, so that they became as one. In themselves they are many by reason of their human descent, but in him they are one by divine rebirth. (Sermo 51: PL 194, 1862-1863, 1865). (Second Saturday in Advent - Office of Readings)

In the same vein, St. Paul explains: “As he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:4-5). Therefore, it is emphasized in the Catechism: “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2Pt 1:4)” (CCC 460). In short, let us remember that “we too are his offspring” (cf. Acts 17:28). To remember in order to renew our life with Him and in Him who comes.

2. The mystery of Jesus’ name and mission - Emmanuel “God with us”

Secondly, it is appropriate to look further into the revelation of the child’s name and the mention of the fulfillment of Scripture in this regard. As the angel announced to Joseph, it will be the latter who will call him Jesus, because “he will save his people from their sins.” The angel’s explanation is based on the etymology of the word “Jesus” itself, which literally means “God saves” or “God is salvation.” The very special mission of Jesus, which is God’s own mission, to “save” the people from their sins, is thus precisely delineated. He embodies on Himself and implements with His own life God’s salvation for His people. Jesus’ name already points to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in the Scriptures.

Regarding the birth and naming of the divine child, the evangelist Matthew states, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” In this statement of fulfillment, which is the first in a series of similar “formulas” that St. Matthew writes in his gospel to show that the whole life and mission of Jesus is a continuous and faithful fulfillment of the Word of God in the Scriptures, one easily notices the fulfillment of the fact of the virgin conceiving and bearing a son. However, a curious discordance is noted concerning the name of the child. Indeed, from God’s reported words “through the prophet” (i.e., Isaiah, as we know from the first reading), it is indicated “they shall name him Emmanuel.” But how? Just now in the passage, the angel spoke of another name for the child, precisely Jesus, and now instead it is stated that His name shall be Emmanuel because of the fulfillment of the Scriptures! What does this mean? The unborn child will have a dual name Jesus-Emmanuel? But we know that He will be given the name Jesus on the day of His circumcision (cf. Lk. 2:21), and He will thereafter be called only that.

A meditation on this detail leads us to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ mission, which is already revealed in the name or rather in the names given. The two names, in fact, complement each other and together hint at the full identity of “the one who comes.” On the one hand, He is Jesus, which means “God saves,” as Joseph and others would later call Him; on the other hand, He is also Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” as St. Matthew himself makes explicit, for it is precisely in His person that God’s presence is made visible in the midst of His people. Moreover, it is understood from this that in the child Jesus-Emmanuel whom God will give to His people, through the virgin-mother, God will save humanity through being one with it, that is, not as one who stands above and outside human reality (God could save humans even in this way in His omnipotence!). He will save humanity as one who walks with the people to bring them to the ultimate Promised Land, sharing their joys and sorrows, labors and worries, those of every day of the journey. In this very perspective it will be stated “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling (literally: to pitch His tent) among us” (Jn 1:14). And Jesus Himself, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true man, will faithfully fulfill that mission of divine salvation for humanity, even after His earthly life, entrusting it to His disciples precisely with the reassuring statement about His divine accompaniment, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

3. Joseph’s drama and mission

St. Joseph is called to special cooperation with the divine plan for the mission of Jesus the Savior. Just as it happened to the best, such as John the Baptist (whom we saw last Sunday), Joseph, a righteous man, also had to go through some moments of crisis because of his misunderstanding of God’s tidings concerning the matter of Jesus, His Son. However, he lent the obedience of faith to the word of the angel, even though, historically speaking, he may not have fully understood the unprecedented mystery of the child’s origin in the womb of Mary, his “betrothed”, “He [Joseph] did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24).

In this regard, in addition to the importance of accepting Mary as a bride despite what happened, emphasis should be placed on the act required of Joseph of naming Jesus. This is an important gesture, that of recognizing the child as one’s legitimate son in the Jewish tradition. By offering in this way his legal paternity, Joseph, called “son of David” by the angel, will thus also convey to Jesus this belonging in David’s royal lineage. He thus becomes formally and effectively, in the patriarchal Jewish society of the time, a rock for both the child and his mother to lean on in the midst of the various vicissitudes of human life.

It must be remembered that the obedience of faith to the angel of God and ready cooperation with the divine plan for Jesus’ life and mission will be found in Joseph still in other difficult circumstances, as we know from the Gospel accounts and also from what can be guessed outside what is written. Such faith, based on the Word of God revealed through His messengers, and unconditional faithful love for Jesus, Son of God, and for Mary His mother, will always remain an example for all in our Christian life and mission (So much so that the Venerable Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan called St. Joseph the patron saint of the hearers of the Word of God). May he intercede for Christ’s disciples-missionaries today and help us renew our faith and faithful love for Jesus and His mother, so that we may worthily celebrate the Christmas of our Savior, “God with us,” again this year.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, Our King and Lawgiver,
the Expected of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.


Useful points to consider:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter on the 150th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Patris Corde

1. A beloved father

The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, “at the service of the entire plan of salvation”.

Saint Paul VI pointed out that Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood “by making his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home”.


3. An obedient father

As he had done with Mary, God revealed his saving plan to Joseph. He did so by using dreams, which in the Bible and among all ancient peoples, were considered a way for him to make his will known.

Joseph was deeply troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy. He did not want to “expose her to public disgrace”, so he decided to “dismiss her quietly” (Mt 1:19).

In the first dream, an angel helps him resolve his grave dilemma: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). Joseph’s response was immediate: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Mt 1:24). Obedience made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and spare Mary.


All this makes it clear that “Saint Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood” and that in this way, “he cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation and is truly a minister of salvation.” (SAINT JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos [15 August 1989], 8: AAS 82 [1990], 14)