VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2001 ( Joseph was open to God´s will as it unfolded in the mystery of Christmas because of an "inner justice" that coincided with love, John Paul II said today.

Referring to the day´s Gospel passage in the liturgy for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Pope said, "Matthew highlights Joseph´s role, whom he describes as a righteous man, underlying by this fact how he was entirely given to fulfilling the will of God."

The Holy Father spoke at midday from the window of his study. Pilgrims gathered below in St. Peter´s Square, under a cloudy sky.

The Pope referred to the preparations for Christmas, now "well under way," and spoke about Jesus´ birth as the "fundamental salvific event, which is, at once, historic and supernatural."

Quoting Isaiah´s prophecy on Emmanuel, "God-with-us," the Pontiff said that this text assured us that "God himself will give King David a descendent as a sign of his fidelity. This promise was realized by the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary."

In order to understand the meaning and gift of grace of Christmas, "we must hasten to the school of Our Lady and her husband Joseph," the Holy Father said.

John Paul II then focused on the lessons to be learned by contemplating the figure of Joseph, described by the evangelist Matthew as "righteous."

"Precisely because of this inner justice, which in the last analysis coincides with love, Joseph does not decide to repudiate Mary, when he learns of her incipient pregnancy," the Pope said. "He resolves to divorce her quietly, but the angel of the Lord asks him not to fear and to take her to himself."

"Another essential aspect of St. Joseph´s personality emerges here," the Holy Father continued. "He is a man open to hear God in prayer. He learns from the angel that it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her, according to the ancient prophecy: ´Behold a virgin will conceive,´ and he is quick to accept God´s plans, which surpass human limitations."

"In sum, like his wife Mary, Joseph can be described as an authentic man of faith," the Pope added. "Faith joins justice and prayer, and this is the most ideal attitude to encounter Emmanuel, the God-with-us."

"In fact, to believe means to live in history open to God´s initiative, to the creative force of his Word, who became flesh in Christ, uniting himself forever to our humanity," John Paul II said. "Thus, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph help us to celebrate in a fruitful way the birth of the Redeemer."