This weekend we celebrate the fourth week of Advent and Matthew’s Gospel will recount the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Joseph (Matthew 1:18-24). The text tells us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph but before they came to live together she was found to be with child. Matthew tells us this is the work of the Holy Spirit. But the text also indicates that this was not so obvious to Joseph. He is presented as an honourable and just man who wants to do the right thing to protect his betrothed. In the end, it is in a dream that an angel visits him and assures him that it is God’s plan that Mary should give birth to a son and name him Emmanuel, a name that means God is with us. Joseph is shown to be a decent and faithful man who, although initially confused and unsure about what was happening, ultimately does the honourable thing and trusts that the hand of God is at work in his life and Mary’s life.
The account of the birth of Jesus, as presented by Matthew, reminds us that God does not always wait until everything is in order before he makes his presence known. This is equally as true for us as it was for Joseph. We spend a lot of time trying to get our lives in order. We would like our health and fitness to be in order: eating a balanced diet and exercising. We would like our relationships to be in order, to be on good terms with our family and friends. We would like to have our finances in order and our future assured. We would like to see our children happy and settled in life. We would like to have our world in order and see a peaceful and sustainable future for our planet. But God doesn’t wait for all to be in order before God acts. It seems that God has other ideas about order and respectability.
It seems that God breaks into our world and into our lives in the midst of unfinished business and incomplete plans. God is indeed the God of interruption and surprises. The challenge for us is to be able to read those signs of God’s presence and respond. Again and again, God chooses those who are unprepared and who consider themselves not up to the mark. That could be you or me. How would we know? The Christian art of discernment is needed to assist us. That means that from time to time we might need to sit in stillness, perhaps to light a candle, and just allow ourselves to be in God’s presence. We may discover that God is taking us in a direction that we did not foresee or that we did not plan. After that, it is up to us to decide how we could respond. And sometimes, like Joseph, we may be uncertain and unsure about our future. These are the times that we are called to deeper faith and to trust that somehow the God of life and hope is walking with us even when we can only take one step at a time.
This week’s gospel tells us that the son of God is named – Emmanuel, God is with us. The beginning of our future lives might be simply to believe that it is true. In the midst of our unfinished lives, we can let God do the rest.
By Fr Brendan Reed