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Dear brothers and sisters, hello!

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, the Gospel tells us about the events that preceded Jesus’s birth, the evangelist Matthew presents them from the point of view of St. Joseph, the betrothed husband of the Virgin Mary.

Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth but they did not live together yet because the marriage ceremony had not yet taken place. In the meantime Mary, after having received the Angel’s announcement, became pregnant by the work of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph realized that she was expecting he bewildered. The Gospel does not explain to us what his thoughts were but it does tell us the essential: he tries to do God’s will and is ready for the most radical renunciation. Instead of defending himself and demanding his rights, Joseph opts for a solution that represents an enormous sacrifice for him. And the Gospel says: “Because he was a just man and did not want to accuse her publicly, he decided to send here away quietly” (1:19).

This brief sentence sums up a real interior drama, if we think of the love that Joseph had for Mary! But even such a circumstance Joseph wants to do God’s will and resolves, surely with deep sorrow, to part with Mary in secret. We should meditate on these words to understand the trial that Joseph endured in the days that preceded Jesus’ birth. It was a trial similar to the sacrifice asked of Abraham when God asked him for his son Isaac (Cf. Genesis 22): to give up the most precious thing, the person he loved most.

But just as in Abraham’s case, the Lord intervenes: he found the faith that seeks and opens up a different path, a path of love and happiness: “Joseph,” he said to him, “do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

This Gospel manifests to us all of Joseph’s greatness of soul. He was pursuing a good plan for his life but God had another design for him, a greater mission. Joseph was a man who always listed to God’s voice, profoundly sensitive to his hidden will, a man attentive to the messages that came to him from the depths of his heart and from above. He did not persist in pursuing his own plan for his life, he did not allow rancor to poison his soul, but was ready to place himself at the service of the thing that was presented to him in a disconcerting way. And it was in this way that he was a good man. He did not hate and he did not allow rancor to poison his soul. But how often does hatred and antipathy too, how often does rancor poison our souls! And this is bad for us. Joseph never permits this to happen: he is a good example of this. And in this way Joseph became freer and greater. Accepting himself according to God’s plan, Joseph finds himself completely, beyond himself. This freedom he has to give up what belongs to him, the ownership of his own life, and this total interior availability to God’s will, grab our attention and show us the way.

Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas contemplating Mary and Joseph: Mary, the woman who is full of grace, who had the courage to entrust herself totally to the Word of God; Joseph, the faithful and just man who preferred to believe the Lord rather than listen to the voices of human doubt and pride. Let us travel with them toward Bethlehem.

[Following the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted those present in St. Peter’s Square:]

I read there written in big letters: “The poor cannot wait.” That’s beautiful! And this reminds me that Jesus was born in a stable, he was not born in a house. Afterward he had to flee, to go to Egypt to save his life. In the end, he returned to his home, to Nazareth. And today I think, reading that banner, of many homeless families, whether it is because they never had one or because they lost it for many reasons. Family and house go together. It is very hard to care for a family without a house to live in. In these days of Christmas I invite everyone – people, social organizations, [political] authorities – to do everything possible for every family to have a house.

I greet with affection all of you dear pilgrims who have come from various countries to participate in this meeting of prayer. My thoughts turn to the families, parish groups, associations and individual faithful. I especially greet the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the band from San Giovanni Valdarno, the young people from the parish of San Francesco Nuovo in Rieti, and the participants in the relay from Alexandria to Rome to raise awareness about peace efforts in Somalia.

My wish for all of those who have gathered here today from Italy to show their social commitment is that they will be able to make a constructive contribution, rejecting the temptations of conflict and violence, and always following the path of dialogue, defending rights.

I wish everyone a good Sunday and a Christmas of hope, of justice and of fraternity. Have a good lunch and goodbye!

[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]