On Tuesday evening we begin the vigil of the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord. How did we get here? Where are we going? A quick review of the readings is helpful in answering the first question. The second question can only be answered by each of us individually.
The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent emphasized being awake, alert, and prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. This is not the only time we will be cautioned to be ready. The admonition to be awake, alert, and prepared will be repeated several times during the liturgical year.
Will we recognize Jesus when He comes? Will we recognize him in the child playing? Will we recognize him in the child still in the womb? Will we recognize him in the demented ninety year-old? Will we recognize him in the struggle of the dying? Will we recognize Him in the face of the poor, or in the face of the spiritually bankrupt wealthy? Will we recognize him in the assembly of believers and in the proclamation of scripture? Most critically, will we recognize His Real Presence in the bread and wine consecrated during the Mass? Will we choose to follow Him? In the end it always comes down to choice. Jesus chose us and remains faithful. Will we chose Him and remain faithful to that choice?
The Gospel for the second and third Sundays of Advent spoke of John the Baptist, the herald of the Son of Man, the voice crying out in the desert, he who deemed himself unworthy to untie Jesus' sandal. John’s appearance was the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. He was and is the bridge from old to new, from the Old Law to the New Covenant. A bridge permits continuity. It brings the past into the present and allows the present to move into the future. We can never hope to understand the New Testament if we don’t first know the Old Testament. Indeed, the New Testament makes no sense if it is removed from its moorings in the Old.
Today’s Gospel is a shift from the previous three Sundays.
Joseph is the focus.
Not one word in scripture is attributed to Joseph. We know that he was righteous only by his actions. We know that he was a good man only by his willingness to do what God commanded. We know that he was a compassionate man when we read that he was unwilling to expose Mary to shame and thus planned to divorce her quietly. But, it was not only from shame that Joseph wanted to protect Mary. He wanted to prevent her possible death from stoning, the penalty for presumed adultery.
Ecce Ancilla Domini,
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum,
"Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord,
may it be done to me according to your word."
Mary’s yes changed the world, it changed the universe, and all that lies beyond the universe. That yes echoes today reverberating among the planets for those who choose to hear it. Joseph's yes was unspoken, but it too changed the universe.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”
Joseph's obedience was immediate; it was without question.. There was no quid pro quo. He did not argue with God. Unlike Ahaz in the first reading, he did not weary God. Joseph did what had to be done. Upon hearing the angel’s message he took Mary into his house. Later, an angel would come with another message. Without question or qualm Joseph would take his young family to Egypt for an extended exile.
As we move toward the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord we recall and meditate upon events that are profoundly human. Over the next days we will sing with melodies both ancient and new, about events that reflect the humanness of the Holy Family. We will recall that Mary and Joseph struggled the same as we do today. They experienced the same stressors we do. They knew the same emotions we know: fear and anxiety, joy and sorrow and everything in between.
Both Mary and Joseph acted with the obedience rooted in faith. They understood that obedience entails giving up control. They knew that faith is the conviction of things unseen and the acceptance of things that remain inexplicable.
Tonight at vespers priests, religious, and laity throughout the world will recite or chant the penultimate 'O Antiphon' before and after the Magnificat:
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
"O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay."
St. Joseph pray for us.
Advent is rapidly ending. BC is very quiet as the students are gone. Is like living on a beautifully landscaped club. Not a lot of snow. Not unhappy that none is in the forecast for Christmas. Have Masses on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Am always happy to be free of the stress of driving in snow, especially as I don't have 4-wd.
The photos below both came from Campion Center when I was minister there. The first is a simple plywood and painted cutout of the Holy Family. I shot it to get the silhouette effect. The second is the candles and trees near the altar in the chapel at Campion.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD