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This Sunday's Programme

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4th Sunday Advent A

Sunday 18th December 2022

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mt 2:18-24
The birth of the Messiah happened this way. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, before they came to live together as husband and wife, she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, a just man, reluctant to humiliate her publically, decided to divorce her quietly. When he was thinking these things over, look, the angel of God appeared to him in a dream, ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid of accepting Mary as your wife, for what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this will happen, fulfilling the words of the Lord spoken by prophet: “Behold, a virgin is pregnant and she will give birth to a son, who will be called Emmanuel, a name which means “God is with us”.’
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel instructed him: he married his wife.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 123:1-6

The earth in all its fullness belongs to the Lord,
the world and all who dwell therein.
God has founded it upon the seas,
set it firm upon the waters.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who shall stand in God’s holy place?
People whose deeds are pure, whose hearts are clean
and whose souls are not filled with vanity or deceit.

They shall receive blessings from the Lord,
and righteousness from a saving God.
This is for all who seek him,
seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, through the circumstances of life, you often call me beyond my dreams and hopes.  When this happens to me, may I share in the faithfulness of Joseph that I might know you as God-with-us in all the dreams and plans you have for my life.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

The Gospel of Matthew opens with two sections which work together to reveal who Jesus Christ is. This Sunday’s Gospel is the second section. The first is the long genealogy which presents Jesus as son of David, son of Abraham. The structure of Matthew’s genealogy (Luke’s follows a different logic) is based on kingship in Israel. There are 14 generations preceding King David, 14 generations of kings, and 14 generations from the exile which effectively ended the reign of the kings. In amongst these people, there are saints and sinners, with a few gentiles taking roles at significant points. Matthew’s Jewish readers, awaiting the Messiah born of David’s line, would have been alert to all this when he begins the story of Jesus’ birth.

Joseph is shown as betrothed to Mary. The Jewish marriage process consisted of three stages: engagement, betrothal and then the marriage itself. While an engagement could be broken off, the betrothal was regarded as committed bond, even though the couple had not consummated the marriage: the betrothed woman would still be living with her parents, being visited by her fiancée. If a woman fell pregnant to someone other than him, the Law’s ruling was that she should be stoned. In an interesting twist, while Joseph is said to be a just man – meaning a devout follower of the Law – he chooses not to enforce the ruling of the Law, but to divorce Mary privately. We can presume that he presumed that she had become involved in a relationship with another, so he was giving her the possibility to enter into marriage with that person. The one who is to be known as the father of Jesus is shown to be one who knows how to interpret the Law in a compassionate manner.

With the mention of the Holy Spirit, the Jewish reader would immediately think back to the opening of Genesis, when the Spirit of God moved across the chaos, creating the world and bringing life. Likewise, this reader would recall also the many references to the Spirit in the Psalms. Joseph, the devout man, would have known all these. And in their light, he would have interpreted the angel’s message. The quote from the Prophet Isaiah is the first ‘fulfilment’ prophecy in Matthew’s Gospel. With these, an event from the Scriptures is shown to have come to its fulfilment in the person of Jesus Christ. One can well imagine Joseph, lying in bed before dawn, pondering on the angel’s message, in the light of the Scriptures. Well he may have pondered on those in his genealogy, on Abraham, on David, and wondered what this child would be like.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Cuckolds are ridiculed in every culture. Seen as weak, easily deceived and open to manipulation, they are despised.   When Joseph became the husband of Mary, he became the one called ‘the father of Jesus’, but from the Gospels, we can see that not everyone’s questions regarding Jesus’ paternity were answered.  Indeed, when Jesus is called ‘the son of Mary’, and not ‘of Joseph’, it is implied that something irregular had taken place and that the marriage wasn’t as respectable as it should have been.  Questions would have been in the air not only about Mary, but also about Joseph – was he weak, easily deceived, open to manipulation?

This Sunday’s Gospel shows him in a very different light.  Here was a man who deliberated on his actions.  He used his understanding of the Scriptures to guide him, but he also considered how his actions would affect the lives of people.  Based on these two different positions, his decision to put Mary away quietly showed wisdom and great strength of purpose.  In spite of what deep hurt and pain he may have suffered; he had no desire for revenge, and no concern about what people thought of him.  In short, this was a man of integrity.

With such integrity, he could face the challenges that were to come his way.  ‘Respectability’ simply didn’t enter into his horizon.  There is a video clip from Hungary of the story of Jesus’ birth set in contemporary situation.  Yes, the situation looks hard and tough.  But Joseph is just the type of person for these challenges.  With his strength and sensitivity he can support Mary, with his love he can embrace the child, and with his compassion he can welcome the people who come to celebrate the birth of ‘the boy’.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

We all have dreams. Sometimes they get shattered. Shattered must have been how Joseph felt when he went to bed that night: his dream of marriage and family, cared for by his carpentry work, destroyed with the news that Mary was pregnant. Kind man as he must have been, it seems he assumed she loved another and he decided, that in divorcing her quietly, there was some chance for happiness out of this situation – her happiness, not his own. He must have been gutted, yet in the depth of his grief, he thought of another.

But during the night, he discovered another dream, God’s dream for him: to be father to the coming Messiah. How he must have pondered in the dawning light! His dream was to be just a husband, just a father, to have just a family but in the light of God’s dream these roles became so much more caught up, as they were, in the mystery of salvation that God was bringing about through this child. To others, it would look as though his married life began ‘under a cloud’. There were questions concerning the paternity of this child, wonderment about Mary but these were not his concern. His was to be faithful to God’s dream for him.

Nobody goes through life without disillusionment. Even the best of marriages, the most successful of careers turn out differently to what people had dreamed. When trouble comes, when disaster happens, if we cling too tightly to our dreams, we may find ourselves diminished, and even becoming bitter. Our challenge in such times is to be like Joseph: to discover the dream that God has for us in this situation. Success does not come in being determined to get what we what but in being faithful to the dream God has for us.

 

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

The Dream of St Joseph by Georges de La Tour.

Joseph’s Dream Gaetano Gandolfi.

Joseph’s Dream by Laura James.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

As you go through this week, mull on those places where you feel God is calling you to grow.  What are the habits and mind-sets you need to leave behind?  Imagine what type of person you might be welcoming these graces into your life.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the Love of your God.

Recall some of the dreams you have had for your life, especially those in your early adult years. How have they evolved in your life? Were some of them stopped because of events beyond your control? How did you react to that?

Can you see how God’s plans for you worked out in your life? Did your dreams support these? Did they clash?

What dreams do you think God has for you at this time?

Rest in the love of your God.