Matthew’s Gospel for Advent 4 – Christmas is disruptive

From Trinity Episcopal, NY – Summerlee Staten

“The Dream of St. Joseph” – Anton Raphael Mengs 1773/1774

Matthew 1:18-25

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, 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.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


In Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew considers an annunciation. Unlike the other Gospels, which focus on the announcement of Jesus’s impending birth to Mary, Matthew wonders how the news must have landed for Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father.

Joseph probably had traditional aspirations for his married life. He must have been looking forward to a new chapter with Mary — the children they would raise together and the life they would build in Nazareth. But when he is told that Mary is expecting, Joseph does not get what he is expecting. His carefully laid plans are disrupted by a God who has bigger ideas. His life, like Mary’s, will never be the same — and now he will have to rely on a deeper trust in God.

In his refusal to dismiss Mary, Joseph exhibits stalwart compassion. Because he is a “righteous man,” he is guided by kindness and is willing to relinquish his expectations, and maybe even his dreams of a particular kind of married life, to a deeper vision.

It is Joseph, Matthew says, who “named” Jesus, a name that means salvation. And yet, he surely could not have known the full implications of Jesus’s arrival — not in his own life, nor for the life of the world.

The annunciation to Joseph reminds us that Christmas is disruptive. Jesus’s arrival in the world and in our lives destabilizes our plans for a perfectly planned life and asks us to accept the interruption of God into time — into the messiness of human life.

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