Dec 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Joseph and the formation of conscience.

Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it.  This law of physics also applies to making decisions. It's like coming to a stop sign at an intersection. Do you go right, or left? The longer you delay, the more cars line up behind you - you feel the pressure. What do you do?  But doing nothing also has consequences.

To help put this into context, the "baby boomers" might recall It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart being shown how the present world would be if one wast not born. The Generation X might recall Groundhog Day, waking up repeating the same day where every action has repercussions. Generation Y might remember the iconic words, "You take the blue pill, the story ends. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland". Maybe it's too early for the millennial generation to realize the impact of every choice, action and decision! Time will certainly tell, whether we are around to tell of it or not.

This is not a hypothetical exercise. We wrestle with consequential decisions throughout life and even every day. Where do I send my kids to school? Which university do I attend? What career should I follow? Do I follow orders? Should I get done on one knee and propose? Do I hit the send button on this text message or email?

Take our leading character in today's Gospel - Saint Joseph.  How will he respond when he receives news that his intended bride, Mary, is pregnant, and he knows he is not the father? He is free to wash his hands of her and leave Mary to her public shame and embarrassment. He is free to reluctantly marry her, since the invitations have been sent out and the reception paid for.  He is free to have access to the religious laws and have the village elders decide the case.

However, Joseph is described by the Scriptures as a “righteous man”. To be righteous is essentially to be in right relationship with God, in right relationship with God’s world, to be in right relationship with those God has placed around us. Whatever the circumstances, his choices and decisions, like the patient fine tuning of a stringed instrument, Joseph profoundly respects the necessary tension of grace.

Even before an angel of God appeared to him in a dream, Joseph had divorced himself of anger, jealousy or any indignation. He kept his passions in check. He didn't “fly off the handle”. He was determined to conduct himself with restraint, patience, and discretion - not for his own sake, but for Mary’s. Not wishing her to be exposed to harm, Joseph had reached a certainty in his conscience that he must break off the engagement. But he would do so quietly. Maybe, he concluded, this would give Mary the necessary time to find a safe place to have her child in secret without drawing any attention.

In the ordinary, everyday circumstances of life, what Joseph decided to do was commendable, to his credit. But what he did not know, was that Mary’s pregnancy was anything but ordinary. Joseph was not in a position to understand the uniqueness of Mary’s pregnancy. It was impossible for him to do so.

Although he was not quick to judge and never asked God for a sign, Joseph was given one. The very same angel who had secretly spoken with Mary, informed Joseph in the secret of his conscience, of the “big picture”. He now could put Mary’s virginity into its correct context and see the whole chain of events from the unique perspective of even God himself!  Joseph had wrestled not with his emotions or with the village elders. Unconsciously, he wrestled with God. Yet, as difficult as it was, God did not harm him. Instead, God taught Joseph how to cooperate with grace - how to dance with grace.

As we draw nearer to the Christmas festivities, our focus always leads us to Jesus and Mary and God’s message of salvation for the whole world. We might often times feel overwhelmed by the mystery of God, even confused as to where we find ourselves within His plan. Maybe there are times we feel we have to go it alone. But St. Joseph is there to accompany us in our trials and uncertainties and to teach us how to patiently turn our wrestling into dance! All in good time, St. Joseph will come to eventually hold Christ in his hands and embrace the divine child in tender and holy union. May our preparation for the Sacraments of encounter with God lead us likewise along this same path to Bethlehem.

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