4th Sunday Advent: What Would Joseph Do?
The gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year is Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. It is rather different from Luke’s version, which we shall be hearing at Midnight Mass on Christmas Day.
Before looking at the text itself, we need to be aware that it comes immediately after all those ‘begats’ (‘Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob…’) in the Prologue that Matthew has given to his gospel. Some people claim, insensitively, that this is the most boring bit of the New Testament; they miss the point that Matthew is making here, for those who know the code (which will have included Matthew’s first listeners). Matthew’s message is conveyed in the three groups of fourteen names into which the genealogy is divided: Abraham to David, David to the Exile, Exile to Jesus. The message is, quite simply, that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the promises of God, whose fidelity has unfailingly guided Israel all through the painful, and at times sinful, history of God’s beloved people. We need to have that firmly in mind before we listen to the gospel reading this Sunday.