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Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2004

"A" Readings: Isa. 7:10-14 • Rom. 1:1-7 • Matt. 1:18-24

Mary and Joseph Prepare for Christmas

By Rev. Jeffrey Lawrence

The early missionaries in Mexico started the custom of bringing a great number of beautiful flowers to the crib of Christ. One Christmas, the road leading to the village church was filled with hundreds of men, women and children, each carrying magnificent flowers as a token of love for the newborn Babe in the manger.

At the side of the road, there stood a small child from a poor family. She was crying.

The priest noticed her, and he asked why she was weeping on such a happy day; it was Christmas! She told him between sobs that she didn’t have money to buy any flowers for the Baby Jesus.

Father told the little girl to dry her tears and pick a tall plant growing near the side of the road.

"But Father, that’s a weed. I need a flower."

The priest repeated, "Pick it anyway. Obedience is very important."

As the legend goes, the child picked the weed. All at once, the green leaves started to glow with a soft, red light. When she placed it before the crib, everyone said it was the most beautiful flower of all. And ever since, the poinsettia has been the favorite Christmas flower in Mexico and many other countries, too, including our own.

In a wonderful way, we can compare Mary and Joseph to the little girl weeping at the side of the road.

At the Annunciation, Gabriel the Archangel appeared to Mary and called her highly favored – full of grace. Gabriel saw that she was shaken, so he told her not to be afraid. No sooner had she recovered from this shock, he announced the next piece of news: that God wanted her to be the mother of his Son. "But how can this be? I haven’t been with any man?"

"But Father, that’s a weed. I need a flower!"

The great archangel explained, and Mary bowed in humble obedience: "Fiat" – "Be it done unto me according to your word."

In the Gospel of today’s Mass, Joseph has just found out that Mary is expecting a child – and the child clearly is not his. Poor Joseph doesn’t understand. He doesn’t have all the facts. He knows he still loves Mary, but he also knows that it would be a shameful disgrace before God to take her into his home. He needs to think, to pray, to consult God. His first thought is to divorce her quietly so as not to cost Mary her life or humiliate her.

Joseph knows this matter is too important to act hastily. He wants to decide in a state of peace – not uncertainty, or anger, or fear. So he decides to sleep on it.

God’s angel slips into his dreams. "Don’t worry, Joseph. Take Mary as your wife. She has conceived not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit Himself. Don’t be afraid."

"But Father, that’s a weed. I need a flower!"

The angel explains that the child to be born, a Son, Joseph is to name Jesus and be his earthly father. And Joseph wakes up and in faith, courage and humble obedience does as the angel of the Lord directed him. He takes Mary into his home as his wife.

Each of us, on countless occasions in life, is called upon to "fly blind." We’re confronted with a difficult problem or circumstance, and we have to make a choice. Often, these choices touch on, directly or indirectly, matters of faith or morals or justice. 

Do I choose "A," or do I choose "B"?

Must I follow God’s Commandments, even when it appears that if I do, then I’ll probably make some situation worse? 

Do I really have to follow the teaching of the Church when logic seems to be telling me that the Church is out of step with reality or the times?

Am I honestly supposed to obey my bishop or my priest even if his advice really goes against what I want to do?

"But Father, that’s a weed. I need a flower!"

What we learn today from Mary and Joseph – and even from the little Mexican girl in our story – is that, yes, we must always be faithful to God’s will. Obviously, the trick is in discerning what God’s will is. But here’s the interesting part: if we do our best in good faith to adhere to the Commandments, the Church, our priests and our bishops, then we can be at peace that we are doing God’s will. 

In fact, whenever we are obedient to the lawful authority of another – whether it’s a parent, a teacher, a policeman, a judge, a pastor, or Christ himself – we are doing God’s will.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard. Weeds don’t ordinarily blossom into beautiful flowers. A poor fiancée thought to be pregnant by another doesn’t typically give birth to a Messiah.

"But with God, nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1:37).

Dear friends, our all-knowing God knows well your struggles, your concerns, your needs. How he loves you and wants to bless you – that’s why he’s sending Jesus on Tuesday, Christmas. Don’t be afraid to trust him, no matter what he asks. Don’t be afraid to obey him. 

Because our good and gracious Lord has been known to turn many a weed into a flower.

May God keep you and bless you and guide you always! Amen!

Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 490 — 507.

Previous Advent homilies by Reverend Jeffrey Lawrence:

- First week of Advent
- Second week of Advent
- Third week of Advent

Reverend Jeffrey Lawrence is a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill. serving at St. Stephen’s Parish in Streator, Ill. A convert from Judaism, Fr. Lawrence practiced law, was creative director and a principal in an advertising agency, and was a consumer magazine publisher before his ordination to the priesthood as a "late vocation."

This homily originally appeared in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, America's leading pastoral magazine


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