Joseph, Do Not Be Afraid

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A)

On this final Sunday before Christmas, we hear the angel say to Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” For sure this refers to the fact that her child had been conceived not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit. However, as the popular Catholic writer, Mark Shea, points out, this gives Joseph an even greater reason to be afraid:

Joseph reacts with fear at the thought of taking Mary as a wife. Why fear? Modernity assumes it was because he thought her guilty of adultery, but the typical view in antiquity understood the text to mean he was afraid of her sanctity — as a pious Jew would be afraid to touch the Ark of the Covenant. After all, think of what Mary told him about the angel's words: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." (from The Mother of the Son: The Case for Marian Devotion)

Mark adds: “I'm not even a pious Jew, but with words like that echoing in my ears about my wife, I'd find it easy to believe that Joseph, knowing what he did about his wife, would have chosen celibacy.”

In the New Testament, Joseph stays somewhat in the background. For example, it does not record a single word that he spoke. Like many men, he seems quiet and reticent to speak. However, that does not mean his role was nugatory. After all, he does take the Virgin into his home. That is, he cares for and protects her through the difficult months of pregnancy - and beyond.

He also names the child. To name expresses authority over, but also responsibility for, another person. I remember once talking with a new mom who was concerned about the dad’s indifference to his child. I saw her a few days later and she was radiant. The dad had come to her with a name he wished to give to his daughter. It was a sign of the dad’s commitment to take responsibility for the child. Joseph, although he was not physically the father of Jesus, was certainly in every other sense the best of dads.

The name he gives is significant: Jesus, the one who would save us from our sins. He would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of Emmanuel – God with us. To care for such a child must have evoked wonder. But Joseph did not shrink from the awesome task. The angel had said to him, “Do not be afraid.” As Matthew informs us, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife into his home.”


Spanish Version

From Archives (Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A):

2013: Model of Faith
2010: Why Honor Mary?
2007: Merry Christmas, Mary
2004: Joseph, Do Not Be Afraid
1998: Iraq & Birth of Jesus

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