Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily for 12/19/10: A Home for the Holidays


4 Advent A – December 19, 2010 – A Home for the Holidays
Isaiah 7:10-14, Psalm 24:1-6, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-24

Complete biblical texts for today

What if Joseph did not take Mary into his home? Maybe she would have been homeless. Joseph made an unimaginable and bold move. Here’s the story.

Mary finds out she is pregnant. We believe she was harboring the messiah. Puzzled, Mary prays, obeys and seeks advice from wise women. In the meantime, news of her pregnancy spread throughout the village. As scripture scholar Brigitta Kahl recently said in so many words: Mary did not have a sign that said, “the Holy Spirit did it.”

According to custom her marriage to Joseph was arranged. At the time Joseph did not know about Mary’s pregnancy. Love was not a prerequisite for matrimony; a good deal between parents was. When Joseph finally learns of Mary’s condition he is really upset. The whole Mediterranean culture was based on honor and shame. Joseph felt dishonored. The law also said you cannot take what does not belong to you. Legally, Joseph could have divorced Mary so that the father of her child could marry her. So what happened that saved the whole Christmas story?

Troubled, Joseph tries to sleep. An angel appears to him in a dream. Angels remember are used in scripture to say, “Listen up this is God talking to you.” The angel tells Joseph not to disown or divorce Mary but to do what is culturally unimaginable. Joseph wakes up with a change of mind. As the last line in today’s gospel tells us, he denounced his own privilege [1] and took his wife into his home. Joseph harbored Mary who was harboring Jesus. [2]

We are all very busy, in the final stretch, getting ready for the holy day of Christmas. Here in this parish we have been very generous with our time and resources in thinking about others. Today’s gospel offers us yet another chance to dream about unimaginable possibilities in life; those flowers blooming from dead stumps that could prepare the way for the kin-dom of God — a time and place when and where all humans care for and respect one another.

The Grammy award winning gospel choir Sweet Honey In the Rock provokes questions in their song, “Would You Harbor Me?” [3] Changing some of the words we can ask: Would we harbor a homeless person? A family? An undocumented migrant worker? Someone inflicted with AIDS?

We believe all of us are harbored by God regardless of our unworthiness. [4] Although this divine and unconditional love is unimaginable not everyone has a home. This year over 12,000 homeless households received services from various providers right in our Capital Region. There are a total of 9000 children in these households, homeless in the Capital Region. [5]

Our song during this season of Advent has been Maran-atha. The word appears only once in the New Testament (1Cor. 16:22) and can be translated “Our Lord Has Come.” [6] Rather than waiting for Christ to come to us, we wait in joyful hope for the world to come to Christ (Karl Rahner), to harbor Christ like Mary and Joseph did. As another Advent comes to a close this week, we pray “let God be with us.” It is that bold unimaginable dream that all people will someday soon have a home for the holidays.

A note on today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah not included in the homily

We often think that the prophecy of Isaiah in this passage is a purposeful reference to the birth of Jesus. Isaiah was thinking of the immediate political situation of his time. Syria was entering an alliance with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This alliance would soon attack Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom of Judah where Ahaz is King. The young woman Isaiah is referring to is not Mary of the NT but the wife of the king, Ahaz. The son to be born is Hezekiah. Isaiah had hopes that the savior of the Israelites would come from the ancestral line of David. For Christians the final fulfillment is found in the birth of Jesus. For Christians, Jesus is the messiah. [Source: Fuller, R. and Westberg, D. The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006) pp.11-13]


1 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1995) pp. 10-12.

2 This theme of “harboring” emerged in an Advent worship ritual at Union Theological Seminary, New York City

3 Would You Harbor Me? Words and Music by Ysaye M. Barnwell © 1994 Barnwell Notes (BMI)

4 Carr, David. Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY. Notes from a handout.

5 Family and Children’s Service of the Capital Region <http:/>

6 New Revised Standard Version. (San Francisco: Harper, 2006) See page 1955. First Corinthians 16:22, footnote c.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

3 thoughts on “Homily for 12/19/10: A Home for the Holidays

  1. This was so inspiring and challenging as well as being timely for our day and opening up the scripture in such a powerful way. Thank you for the time you spend researching and praying so that our kin-dom of St Vincent’s can hold onto something to remind us of who we are and who we pledge our allegiance to. There is much work to be done and much praying, too, that we will have the courage to light a spark where we are planted. Let’s continue to pray for one another. Merry Christmas. Sally


  2. I loved your admonition (perhaps ad libbed during the 8:30 Mass — doesn’t appear in this written text) that we not hesitate to wish others a Merry Christmas. I’m at the point where I ask people whether they celebrate Christmas before doing so. Life sure is complicated, isn’t it?

    I always find it especially rewarding and helpful to think about the very practical context in which the Gospel stories unfolded — for example, the “honor and shame” dichotomy you highlight. I gather that such social constructs were the best way people could deal with certain complications of life (there’s that problem again). In practice it certainly had its horrible elements — stoning comes to mind — but the basic idea of setting a high standard and working to promote adherence to the common good is an attractive one in many ways. We continue to struggle with that, and no doubt always will.

    Many thanks, as always, for a blessedly thoughtful and provocative message.



  3. happy holidays or merry christmas? well, i can tell you growing up jewish, that if someone said merry christmas to me, i would correct them…. but my feeling is borderline – good wishes is good wishes, right? by the same token, if it is after channukah is over, why not say merry christmas, to whomever? it is confusing. happy holidays is generic, if you dont know who your audience is. obviously, saying merry christmas to a chasiddic rabbi would be rude. but, since we cant, and shouldnt otherwise judge anyone… so, no harm, no foul. if you KNOW someone is jewish – or buddhist, or hindu, or muslim – well, then dont say merry christmas. christmas is, after all, a christian holiday. i wish it was more of a holy day, but, there you go.
    I say, gut yomtov! (Good holy day!!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s