Joseph heard the news that Mary, his betrothed, was with child. He clearly knew the child was not biologically his. Scripture does not account for the thoughts or emotions of Joseph, but whatever inner turmoil he did have, he came to a decision that would not expose Mary to shame. He was not going to make a public spectacle of Mary, but divorce her quietly. Before he made his final decision though, Joseph made an excellent choice when discerning serious matters. He slept on the idea before acting.
During Joseph’s sleep, the angel of the Lord delivered a message. “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” (Mt 1:20-21). When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home (Mt 1:24). From their encounter with God’s messengers, both Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s will and “that has made all the difference” to quote Robert Frost’ poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Because of Mary and Joseph’s yes to God and to family, the Son of God became man and opened up heaven for us in the humanity he assumed.
God often works in the same way with us. What may appear to be absurd, unimaginable, or downright impossible, is indeed possible when we align our will with God. This is the week of Joy in Advent. Joy is more than pleasure or happiness. Pleasure ends when the sensate experience ends. Happiness is experienced with pleasure and can last longer, in that we can recall the pleasurable experiences for a time, but happiness too will fade. Joy, though, like hope, is a gift of the Holy Spirit that wells up from within, from our soul.
The source of joy does not come from external experiences, but from an encounter with and acceptance of God’s invitation. Joy is an experience of communion with the love of God. This has been given to us in greater measure because Jesus became one with us, and so upon his ascension into heaven, we too can experience the loving communion he experiences with his Father. We also experience the love of the Holy Spirit in our encounter with family and friends, this exchange of giving and receiving of ourselves in conversation, shared experiences, and in resolving challenges and conflicts together.
Mary and Joseph both received incredible news, that neither of them fully comprehended. They could have easily responded in a different way to the message they received. But they didn’t. They trusted in God, they chose family, and because they did so, we can rejoice this week and all days
Mary and Joseph trusted in God and were willing to allow their unborn child, Jesus, to come to full term. Because of their yes to Jesus, to family, even in the midst of our trials we can rejoice, not in the fact that we suffer, but because we are not alone in our pain, conflict, and chaos. We may feel on our own, see no way out, see no cure in sight, no help on the horizon, but Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Mary and his foster father Joseph, is with us, present and accompanying us.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, please intercede on our behalf this Advent Season such that we may better be able to resist the temptation of taking each of our family members for granted, but instead choose to be thankful for one another. Help us to react less and breath deeply more. Help us to be more understanding, patient, and willing to forgive, such that even through past hurts, conflicts, disagreements, and different perspectives, we may ultimately experience time and again the joy of being there for one another, through thick and thin.
Photo: Our first Christmas picture together as a family about twenty-two years ago