Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Homily: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Many of you might now be aware that Pope Francis has a peculiar statue of St Joseph in his bedroom. It is an image that comes from the renaissance period where Joseph is depicted asleep next to the manger of Jesus.
In these images Mary is found next to the crib with her newborn son, while Joseph is found nearby, curled up in slumber. It is, at least for me, a beautiful and intriguing image. The beauty comes from the sense of tranquillity and gentle simplicity it depicts. There is a trustful weariness about Joseph, even though it is Mary who is more deserving of some post-natal rest!
What is intriguing about the sleeping Joseph comes from the fact that all the decisive moments in the bible about him occur while he is asleep. It is in his dreaming that Joseph’s integral role in the story of salvation is revealed. So it is in today’s gospel.
In his waking moments, Joseph had decided to quietly divorce Mary because of her pregnancy. In those days, and contrary to what we might think today, this would have been quite a courageous and loving act on his part. Rather than having Mary publicly punished so that he could stand up righteously in the eyes of the community, Joseph had chosen to take on something of the shame of what had happened. As we are told, he wanted to do this so as to spare her the public humiliation.
Yet, God’s love was still greater than this. In his unsettled and agitated sleep, Joseph learns in a dream of what God wanted for Mary. And the angel told him: do not be afraid. God’s love for our humanity – and his particular love for his son in Mary – revealed to Joseph a path previously unfathomable to him. From the moment of his waking, Joseph did precisely what God was doing: he decided to love Mary in a deeply sacrificial and protective way.
What had Joseph learnt from that dream, such that it would change him forever? He learnt that God’s way would always be greater than anything we could devise. And in that realisation, Joseph learnt to trust.
On the night that the Word become flesh and began to dwell amongst us – on the night that the divine became human and eternity entered into our time – Joseph slept because he could trust that God would not abandon him in his role as a father, nor would God abandon his people. Joseph had no need to ever be afraid again.
So, sleep and dream on, St Joseph, you just man of goodness and love, as you place your trust in the God who will not abandon us. And may we learn to dream with you, the dream of God’s abiding presence amongst us.