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
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  and took his wife into his home. Joseph harbored Mary who was harboring Jesus. 
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?”  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.  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. 
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.”  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:/www.endhomelessnessny.org/>
6 New Revised Standard Version. (San Francisco: Harper, 2006) See page 1955. First Corinthians 16:22, footnote c.