Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)
Today’s Gospel passage presents a defining moment in the life of Joseph and a compelling example of faith and obedience for each of us.
We learn that Joseph was a kind man. . . “unwilling to expose her to shame, he decided to divorce her quietly.” In his mind, he had to. His life, his religion, his ethics were shaken by learning that Mary was with child. We can surmise that, as a man of faith, he prayed intensely about it. Then, in his dream, an angel appears and invites him to participate in a larger story. . . to make a leap, to take an action that goes beyond how he would normally understand the law.
So, Joseph awoke in the morning and did what he had to do. He began emptying himself. He let go of fear. He let go of his doubts and questions. He let go of his own reputation and standing in the community. He let go of his ideas and hopes for what his marriage to Mary could have been. He let go of the law and punishment and trusted God.
Joseph was changed because of God’s plan for his life. The threads of God’s plan were laid long before Joseph was born and affect millions of people 2020 years after his death. Joseph yielded to God.
How many of us have yet to experience God’s plan for our lives? Is it because we all limit ourselves by our tried-and-true ways of doing things?. Many have their own unyielding ways of dealing with personal, spiritual, and professional matters. It’s my way, not your way.
While today’s Gospel is about Mary and Joseph, it is truly about you and me. It’s about you and I becoming more open and more receptive to God’s will in our lives. In a grueling year, as 2020 has been, it’s about you and I not becoming more rigid becaause of our self- imposed credo of right and wrong but allowing ourselves to listen to the whispers of God and recognize that we can change our immediate world by acting in love and obedience to Him. Only Him. Not our idea of who He is, or our interpretation of what He wants or even what He thinks! But listening to His words in scripture, digesting the flavors and meaning of the sacraments, finding His beauty and His grace around us. Yielding to those prompts and becoming refreshed and strengthened by them.
Yielding to God means letting go of the anger, the resentment, the judging of others, yes, even in today’s times, the refusal to further spread malicious comments and untruths. These are the things that lead to isolation and loneliness. These are the things that close us up, harden our nature and make us inaccessible. By definition, when we are closed, we are not open. Not open to receiving God’s love. How painful that is!
The very use of Emmanuel, in referring to Jesus, means that God is with us. That is the meaning of Christmas. Christmas offers the gift of faith; offers this gift with the very human realities of birth, joy, struggle, confusion and peace. Christmas is a gift given, and a gift to be shared, and sometimes a gift to be worked at.
In prayer we receive the peace and joy of the feast; in our kindness to others at Christmas we share his coming; and in our working in the world, or in the family and communities, for peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and other qualities of the message of the gospel, we bring Christmas alive.
During this final week of Advent, we are reminded that His plan for us is to give birth to God’s Son in our time and in our culture. We need this message in a world of anger, polemics, pandemic and terror.
Christmas presents an alternate view, trust in God. Life may get in the way of our plans, but we will have the strength to survive and thrive because we trust the One who is really in control. We might not be in control. But God is. We can be truly grateful that the real gift of Christmas lasts forever, for this life and the next.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, you came to save us from sin and the power of death. May I always rejoice in your salvation and trust in your divine plan for my life.”
During these last few days of the Advent season, may you and I hear a word from that inner place, a word that banishes all fear and encourages us to take one tiny leap of action to draw nearer to something we do not fully understand. Emmanuel is God with us: do not be afraid.