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Terrance KleinDecember 14, 2022
“Saint Joseph’s Dream,” 13th-century mosaic from the Florentine Baptistry. (Wikimedia)

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-24

“Chrissy lost her baby.” Such terrible news to receive. What makes it all the worse for Lucy Barton, the heroine of Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel,Lucy by the Sea (2022), is that she receives news of her daughter’s miscarriage during the Covid-19 lockdown and from her other daughter.

Becka was the one who called and told me, and she said, “Don’t feel bad, she can’t talk to you right now.” I said I understood. But I thought: Chrissy! Oh dear Chrissy! “But how is she?” I asked this quietly. And Becka paused and then said, “Well, she’s how you would expect, Mom. She’s really upset.
“Of course, I said.”
We spoke for a few more minutes. I asked her to have Michael call me when he could, and Becka said she would do that. And then we hung up.
I sat at the round dining room table, stupefied. Again and again I thought, Oh Chrissy. Chrissy.

Have you ever asked yourself that terribly unsettling question—though granted one we are not allowed to decide—about which you would choose: to suffer or to watch someone whom you dearly love do so? I suspect that most mothers would rather receive pain than to see it in a loved one.

Have you ever asked yourself that terribly unsettling question about which you would choose: to suffer or to watch someone whom you dearly love do so?

Lucy must do the unthinkable for a mother. She must wait until her daughter is ready for her ministrations.

The days went by, but I do not really remember how. The silence from Chrissy made me feel numb with awfulness. Michael finally called, and he sounded very serious. He said, “She’s hurting.” And I said, Of course.

Worse still. When the call from Chrissy does come, it is to her former husband, not Lucy.

“William, I said. “Why did they call you but not me?” I did not feel jealous of him, I simply wanted to know.
And he said, “Oh Lucy, they just worry about how much you worry.”
“But aren’t you worried about them? About Michael?
“Yes,” William said, “but I don’t let it show.”
“I get it,” I said, and I did.

“They worry about how much you worry.” That is certainly the mark of a mother, but it is also an essential human response, the way we hold the humanity of another.

You can fret about anything, from the state of a crop to the current stock index. But when you worry about a person, a loved one, you open yourself to an infinite depth of concern. Why? Because people are not static. Their worth cannot be calculated. They ever exceed our understanding.

“They worry about how much you worry.” That is certainly the mark of a mother, but it is also an essential human response, the way we hold the humanity of another.

In the Gospels, we receive only the saving summaries. The evangelists trust that our prayerful pondering will fill in the deeply human details.

When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly (Mt 1:18-19).

Consider again Joseph’s anguish. Divorce is not his angered response to Mary’s dilemma. Joseph knows she is pregnant; he knows the child is not his; but he also knows his betrothed. People exceed our expectations and our comprehension, but we do essentially grasp those whom we love. We hold them hard enough to ache.

Whatever is happening to Mary, it goes beyond what Joseph can comprehend, beyond what he knows of the world. Divorce is a way to shield Mary and Joseph’s own heart from the disgrace that awaits her. He does the best he can.

Joseph is not like King Ahaz, someone who stubbornly refuses to admit that God cannot be limited by the contours of creation. But until his revelatory dream, Joseph has no way to know that he has been cast in the greatest of all human dramas: the Gospel of God…

which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh,
but established as Son of God in power
according to the Spirit of holiness
through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:1-4).

The rest of us play only supporting roles in the cast. We are not “Gospel leads.” Still, we cannot help but to worry about those whom we love, to commend them fervently to God in prayer. Will God hear our prayer?

That’s a question not just to pose but to answer for yourself. Are you an Ahaz, who limits what you will believe, or are you a Joseph, who awakes into faith and resolution?

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