Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)
Time seems to be flying by like a speeding train and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. What do I mean? Just like that… the 4th candle is lit on the Advent wreath representing the last week of Advent and Christmas in only one week away.
I have a confession though. Can you keep a secret? I’m not feeling it this year. I just can’t seem to get in the “holiday spirit” for the life of me. It’s been an exceptionally trying year and I’m just worn down a bit. Plus I think the commercial side of Christmas, for me, it also getting a bit old. I mean… it’s the same thing every year. We celebrate Halloween and then all of a sudden, when we should be getting ready for Thanksgiving, that man in a red suit with his reindeer shows up! As we sit down to over indulge in a Thanksgiving feast with family, we turn on the radio for some pleasant background music, and lo and behold “Jingle Bells” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is playing on just about every bloody station! Then it’s a 30 day mad dash starting with Black Friday shopping, putting up the Christmas decorations, making sure everyone on our list has a present, planning meals and family gatherings, finding time to wrap the presents and still have enough money left over to pay our monthly bills. It can be stressful and exhausting.
I’ve been actively trying to get out of my funk but nothing has helped until I read Matthew’s Gospel passage for this weekend. It brought to mind a conversation I had with a Baptist friend of mine a few years ago. We were talking about who knows what when, out of the blue, he looked at me and said, “You Catholics really like Mary don’t you?” A little shocked, I merely replied, “Yup, we think she’s pretty cool.” He then said, “Well I’m Baptist, so the only time we ever talk about her is at Christmas because she gave birth to Jesus. So what’s the deal with Mary and Catholics?” Trying to keep this as simple as possible and without wanting to get into a heated debate, I said something like, “Mary was the first person to say yes to Christ. God told her she was to conceive His Son who would save us. She didn’t fully understand this, but she trusted God and said yes. So I guess you could say that Mary was the first Christian. We honor her yes and try to follow her example by saying yes to God.” Silence filled the room. After a few moments he started nodding his head in agreement and said, “You know…. you’re right. I’ve never thought of Mary in that way.”
With that conversation in mind, let’s look at today’s Gospel from Matthew. Today we hear the annunciation story from the perspective of Joseph instead of Mary. Fun fact…. did you know that Joseph doesn’t speak a single word in the New Testament? He does, however, fall asleep twice. Both times, an angel appeared to him in a dream to give him an urgent message from God.
Today’s Gospel recounts the first of these two dreams. Joseph just found out that his bride-to-be was pregnant… with someone else’s baby. I would imagine this would be problematic to most men in his situation. Yes? It pretty much means that your future bride is already unfaithful and untrustworthy before you have even exchanged the marriage vows. But rather then dragging Mary’s name through the mud, he decided to break off the engagement quietly. And remember, in those days women caught in adultery were stoned. So Joseph, being an upstanding guy, actually saved Mary’s life by keeping everything quiet. He didn’t want revenge or to get back at Mary, he just wanted to let her live her life in peace without him.
Thinking that was the end of the story, Joseph went to bed… probably trying to forget the horrible, stressful day that he just had. It was then that an angel of God appeared and told him, “Joseph, you’re going to have to trust God on this one. Your human brain can’t fully understand it, but Mary didn’t cheat on you. She’s actually more faithful then you can possibly imagine. Mary is pregnant through the Holy Spirit and the child she is carrying is going to save people from their sins. This is God’s plan, not yours. But God still needs you to take care of Mary and His son. Trust Him and do not be afraid.”
Now I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams in my day. I’ve even had dreams that seemed so real, that when I woke up, I had to lie there for a while trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. But what does Joseph do when he awoke? He doesn’t hesitate at all. According to Matthew, “He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” Bottom line is that God asked Joseph to come out of his comfort zone and trust Him… and Joseph did just that.
So what am I now doing to get into the “Christmas spirit?” Instead of focusing on the worldly, modern view of Christmas, I’ve been focusing on trusting in God through the examples of Mary and Joseph. Neither of them understood fully what in the world God was doing with the birth of Jesus. All they understood was that God’s Son was coming to earth to save us from our sins. They were faithful enough to trust in God and allow Him to use their lives in that plan.
You and I are also part of God’s plan. I highly doubt though, that any of us can fully say with confidence that we know exactly what God has in store for us. That’s where faith comes in. No matter how messy your life may seem, no matter how much you don’t understand what is going on or why, no matter how much you may seem to be in spiritual “funk,” you still have to trust that God’s plan for you is better then anything you can do on your own.
That is what I challenge you to focus on this last week of advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Focus on saying, “yes” to God’s plan for your life.
Focus on trusting Him more and you less.
Look to Joseph and Mary as examples of what trusting in God is all about.
If you can do that, then you’ll realize that the best Christmas present is not bought in a store, but rather is found in a manger.