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We are now in the time of immediate preparation for Christmas. The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect this with the first reading being a passage from Isaiah which explicitly predicts the Virgin Birth. This text is chosen by the Church for the liturgy this Sunday in order to underscore the fact that it was not just the coming of a Messiah that was foretold in the Old Testament but even some of the circumstances of his birth, most especially the fact that he was to be born of a virgin mother.

The Gospel provides us with the account of the immediate events leading up to the birth of Jesus and explicitly quotes the prophecy of Isaiah which we already heard in the first reading. The key character in the text set before us is Joseph to whom all the circumstances are revealed in a dream.

Matthew is explicit about the place of St Joseph in the history of salvation and we are told about the four extraordinary dreams of Joseph the first of which is presented to us in today's reading. In a further dream, he is instructed to take his family into Egypt to escape King Herod's wrath and then once the danger is over another dream informs him that it is now safe to return home to Israel. The final dream warns him to go to Galilee instead of Judea.

St. Joseph is a man of integrity, honor and virtue. He does the right thing. The true paternity of Our Lady's child is revealed to him in the dream and he does what he is asked by the Angel and marries Mary and protects her and the child Jesus, returning only to his own village once things were safe for them. These are indeed honourable actions for which he is to be highly commended.

We admire Joseph because he does not question the Angel; he simply does what he is asked to do, recognising that these instructions come ultimately from God. We would do well to imitate Joseph in our own lives especially when we are faced with circumstances which are far from ideal. We should take him for our model and do the right thing at the time when it is needed. And the fact that Joseph does his duty and protects Mary and Jesus in time of danger is something else that he ought to be commended for. A husband protects his wife, a wife protects her husband and both protect their child. These after all are the principal duties that fall to those who are married. Carrying out these responsibilities is important for the welfare of each family and indeed serves the good of society as a whole.

In these final days of Advent we prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast of Christmas. Let's not, however, focus on all the practical preparations, all the shopping, all the decorating and all the cooking. What we have to understand is that it is far more important for us, who profess ourselves to be Christians, at this particular time to focus on the actual events of Christ's birth.

As we come to the end of the Advent season we ought to be spending time in thinking and meditating on the Christmas mysteries. The joyful mysteries of the Rosary are an excellent background to deepen our spiritual and theological insight. We ought take a little time out to read for ourselves the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus and let them speak to us. Our prayers in this immediate pre-Christmas period should be centred on the coming of the Saviour of the World. And as we do these things, as we meditate on the birth of Christ, our hearts will be filled with hope for all that he represents.

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