Learn more about Catholic Charities

We're serving those
in need regardless of
faith, culture, or situation.


Advent Reflections Part 1: The Annunciation

Created by Joseph Benevento

Or Listen on:  YouTube | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Apple Podcasts

What Catholic doesn’t love the traditional Christmas narrative, from the Annunciation straight through to the Three Wise Men?  I worry, though, that some Catholics enjoy  that narrative the way they enjoy “A Christmas Carol,” or  “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

Those fictions feature the appearance of angels, or spirits visiting in dreams, just like the Bible story.  If someone in real life told us they had been visited by an angel or that they were changing their lives based on a dream, we might question their sanity.  Fiction is different though; works labeled fiction explicitly tell us that “this didn’t really happen”; in fact, fiction featuring ghosts or angels is usually categorized as “Fantasy.”  Yet the story of Mary and Joseph,“really did happen,” and we need to appreciate how big a distinction that is.

Unlike Scrooge, the Virgin Mary was real. She was a young Jewish woman, recently contracted in marriage to a man named Joseph.  Catholics believe that Mary was conceived without original sin, but could Mary understand the depth of that reality? Joseph was a simple craftsman, who expected a very ordinary marriage and family life with Mary.  Suddenly, Mary learns she is to birth the long awaited Messiah. No lesser figure than the Archangel Gabriel delivers this message.  How would that not overwhelm an actual human being?  Yet Mary remains composed and delivers a beautiful affirmation of her willingness to remain God’s servant.  How many of us, though, really reflect on how astonishing and brave her reaction was? 

 And if what Mary does isn’t incredible enough, consider Joseph. When he learns Mary is   pregnant, and knows he isn’t the father, he’s naturally upset, but kind enough not to want Mary exposed. But how  did Joseph learn of Mary’s pregnancy? It  had to have been before she was “showing,” so it must have been Mary herself who told him. When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant though still a virgin he didn’t believe her.  Why would he?  He was a real person, not a fictional character and a pregnant virgin was not possible. Yet the Bible tells us an unnamed angel (Joseph doesn’t merit an Archangel) reveals to him, within a dream, that all is well. And so he takes Mary into his home as his wife. 

We should reflect on this truth.  In real life, who believes something just because they dreamed it?  As in fiction, once we wake from a dream, we conclude, “that didn’t really happen.”  In the Bible, it seems that people named Joseph are expected to accept dreams as something more. But if Joseph is to be accepted as a real person,  then his decision to stay with Mary is almost more incredible than the miraculous truth of the Virgin birth itself. God, for whom all things are possible, saw to that birth, but  Joseph, an ordinary man with no halo yet,  has to utilize his trust in Mary and the assurances of a dream angel to decide he should stick with the woman he loves.  It’s an amazing feat of courage for which Joseph has never really been fully celebrated.

In fantasy fiction, we accept angels and other supernatural elements readily.  The Gospels aren’t fiction, though.  So Joseph’s acceptance isn’t just something some author decided for him; but rather a life-changing choice based on faith in both the Most High and his wife Mary.  Mary and Joseph begin to earn the title the “Holy Family” when Mary accepts God’s plan, and works to convince her husband that all is righteous and blessed.  They begin to become the Holy Family when they are willing to accept what seems like far-fetched fiction, as the reality that will challenge and bless the rest of their lives together.