In the Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the phrase, “Such was his intention when.” This phrase reminds us of the situation in which Joseph found himself. This story of Joseph and his decision to take Mary in are presented to us as a pattern for behavior. The relative luxury that we live in allows us to make plans and dream about the future. We must first acknowledge that for the most part, we live in very predictable times and have very predictable lives. Because of this, we may not listen attentively to the voice of God, or notice that He is speaking to us about a necessary change of plans to do His will and build up His reign on earth. This is quite unlike the model presented by Joseph.
We are offered each week the visions of the prophets of old. They present images of a world that is much more healed than it was in their time, or it is today. The prophets offer us ways to make God’s world come about in our midst and notice God’s miracles in our daily lives. In order to notice the opportunities, we have to cooperate with God’s work in the world. We need to build habits that make us much more attentive to the movement of God. We shouldn’t wait until something drastic happens and the foundations of our world are shaken. We should take God’s invitation to notice that His kingdom is at hand, right here and right now.
Our friend of Advent, John the Baptist, preaches repentance, renewal and recovery of sight and hearing. He asks us to notice the movement of God in our lives and to be conscious of the possibility that we could be a bigger part in that movement. If we simply go about our daily plans and never consult God or get input from the Holy Spirit, we are missing all kinds of possibilities to help the wonders of God be more available to people. Instead of being focused simply on what our faith does for us in our families, might we be able to take the warning of John the Baptist and make Advent more than just for ourselves as we head toward Christmas?
In your preparations for Christmas, have you thought about your connection with the people in your family with whom you are estranged? Do you simply accept the fact that the situation is hopeless, or are you willing to submit that relationship to God? Are you willing to see what inspiration God might have for you, even if His suggestion requires you to make sacrifices or leave your comfort zone? Are you noticing how incredibly blessed and gifted you are right now, or are you still concentrating on what doesn’t happen or what you don’t have? Have you acknowledged and paid attention to the stranger, the poor and those who are treated unjustly in your midst? Did you decide long ago that those people are someone else’s problem or they get what they deserve?
For Jesus Christ to be born in our time and Christmas be a celebration of the past, present and future, we must be like Mary and Joseph, willing not only to make our own plans, but to listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit. God has bigger plans in mind for us. May your final days of Advent be a time of awakening and birthing the presence of Jesus Christ in your family, neighborhood and world. May you experience the hundredfold blessings that flow from doing God’s work here on earth.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.