Fourth Advent: Celebrate the Child
The readings for this Sunday are an immediate preparation for Christmas. Instead of hearing about the Second Coming of the Lord as we did the First Sunday of Advent and instead of hearing about the instructions and the mission of John the Baptist, as we did the Second and Third Sundays of Advent, we are brought to the events that take place within nine months of Jesus' birth. We come upon Joseph. A very disappointed Joseph. The beautiful young girl he would soon take into his home was pregnant. His life was falling apart around him. We don't know the exact time that Joseph was aware of the problem, but obviously Mary was showing. What was Joseph thinking? Would he have forgiven Mary a supposed indiscretion if she were not pregnant? But she was pregnant. The child was ruining everything. And then the angel came in the dream and told him that the child will make all things wonderful. He is the Savior.
Mary has remained virtuous. And Joseph was given the opportunity to take the Messiah into his family. Basically, Joseph was told to celebrate this unexpected birth. It seems that just about every Sunday I notice another one of our ladies is going to have a baby. As a man I have no clue at what it is like to have a baby inside you. As a priest, I have no experience of the excitement a husband must feel when his wife tells him that they are expecting. Those first few months, when it is their secret, must be wonderful. Then when they are ready to share their secret, family and friends celebrate the coming child. And every child has a right to have his or her coming celebrated. That right extends also to those children whose coming, like the Lord's, is not expected, whether their parents thought they were done have children or whether their parents did not even consider that their actions could would lead to their conception.
It makes not difference. Once the coming of a child is learned, the child should be celebrated. A few years ago we had a wonderful experience of a girl who chose to celebrate her coming child. She had moved out to the Tampa area to begin college and to get away from a relationship which had turned physical. She sought a second virginity, a term saying, "I am going to reconsecrate myself to the Lord and stay celibate until I marry.” She had sought out our parish because she had been involved in Life Teen in her home parish and wanted to stay involved in Life Teen. What she didn't realize was that she came out here already pregnant. The relatives she was living with demanded that she destroy the child. Through our Youth Minister, Bart Kovacic, myself and our Upper Pinellas Pregnancy Center, she got the support she needed to plan her future and her baby's future. When she took my advice and called her family, she received further support, including from the baby's father. She decided to go back home. The day before she left, I took her to lunch.
The entire time she talked about her plans for the baby. He's going to learn Spanish. He's going to do this or do that. It was wonderful. She was celebrating the unexpected, but coming baby. Next weekend we will sing sweet carols about the Babe of Bethlehem. Although we know that this is the Second Person of the Trinity, the All Powerful One, we also know that he chose to become one of us, totally one of us, even being conceived and carried in a womb and being an infant, toddler, child, teen and young adult before revealing himself to the world at his Baptism by John the Baptist. And so we focus on his infancy. We tell him in song to "sleep in heavenly peace.” We sing of the unexpected joy. Every child has a right to be celebrated with love. Every child has a right to be carried inside and outside the Mom with deep love. Every child is a joy, whether a planned joy or an unexpected joy.
Every child has a right to be carried and to sleep in heavenly peace, not in emotional turmoil. We have a responsibility as Christians to celebrate the pregnancy of our girls and the arrival of our babies. They are all our babies. They are part of our family. They are made in the image and likeness of God. They will receive the indelible imprint of God at their baptism. They will radiate his presence in a way the world never experienced before. They will be capable of being saviors, saviors to their parents, saving them from selfishness, saviors to those whom they will love in their lives. It is wonderful that we have our Pregnancy Center to help new and/or poor mothers.
But the materials that you so generously provide, the counseling that is offered, the testing and referrals that are made are not enough. Babies need more than that. Babies need warmth and love. It is clear from the scripture that Joseph provided for more than Jesus's external needs. He loved the child. He took him into his family. He named him. And, I feel certain, he held him and rocked him to sleep when Mary was exhausted. He celebrated this unexpected child and in doing so celebrated the presence of God's love on earth. We pray to St. Joseph today to help us to do what he did. We need to care for, to love and to celebrate our babies. In doing so we are celebrating the arrival of yet another reflection of the presence of God on earth.