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’s 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 when dealing 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 the depths of 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. Instead, they trusted in God, they chose family, and because they did so, we can rejoice not this week but all of our days!
Mary and Joseph followed God’s lead and were willing to allow their unborn child, Jesus, to come to full term. Because they risked public ridicule and worse, Jesus entered into our human condition. Even in the midst of our trials we can rejoice, not in the fact that we suffer or face uncertainties in this life, but because we are not alone. We may feel on our own, see no way out, and/or no help on the horizon, but God will make a way and reveal it to us through his Son. We may not understand either, but like Mary and Joseph, we are to trust in God and one another.
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 appreciative and thankful for one another. Help us to react less and breathe deeply more. Help us to be more understanding, patient, and willing to forgive, such that even though we have experienced 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-four years ago, actually taken in late summer so it would be ready for our first Christmas card!