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What does it look like for someone to be a great basketball player? We look to Michael Jordan, to Larry Bird, to Magic Johnson, Alan Iverson, etc. These people excelled at the sport and show us what it means.
Today Saint Paul talks about the “obedience of faith” that was the goal of Jesus’ mission on earth. What does “obedience of faith” look like? Well, during Advent, we have looked at John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and now today have another great example today in Saint Joseph.
Joseph is named after a character of the Old Testament who was the youngest of the 12 sons of Israel (whose actual name was Jacob). He was a righteous young man, who had fantastic dreams. He was betrayed by his jealous brothers and sold as a slave to Egypt. Eventually he saved their lives when they came starving to the country he had preserved from famine.
Now today we have another Joseph, this righteous man who receives a divine message in his dreams, asking him to accept Mary as his wife because the mysterious child of God will “save his people from their sins.” What does “obedience of faith” look like? It looks like Joseph’s response today: “He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Even though he could not understand exactly what was happening, he did not deny; he did not doubt. That is the obedience of faith.
Ahaz in the first reading is the perfect example of what not to do. In the midst of the most difficult situation this king has ever faced, seeing a huge enemy planning to conquer him, Ahaz sounds very pious when he says to the prophet Isaiah, “I will not ask, I will not tempt the Lord.” But the reason Ahaz is saying this is actually because he does not want to hear from God, he has blocked Him out and turned his back on God. He doesn’t have any faith, doesn’t trust what God is doing. But Ahaz gets his sign anyway, a sign that finds an unexpected fulfillment centuries later in the beginning of the Gospel.
Where do we find ourselves at this point in our lives? When things aren’t going well, do we react like Ahaz and try to trust in ourselves, to do we act like Joseph and listen to what God is asking of us, trusting that He knows what He is doing even if we don’t understand it. Perhaps when things are going well we seem more like Joseph and Mary and John the Baptist. But how about when things are not clear? When things are scary? When we don’t have control? Do we revert back to Ahaz?
We have one more week before Christmas. I think we need to immerse ourselves in these stories so that we can really enter into the season. There are many ways to do this, but I think the best would be to simply pray with the Word of God this week, particularly the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. You could get your bible out today and put it on your favorite chair, or next to your alarm clock, or on the kitchen table. Wherever you can take 5-10 minutes each day to read a little bit and pray, seeing what “obedience of faith” looks like from the great masters. Another way, if possible, is to attend daily Mass at any parish you can. The Gospels this week take us right through these stories. Nothing prepares us better than prayer, Confession, and the Word of God. Carve out time for silence, for waiting, for “dreaming” like Joseph, so you can hear and follow God’s will before, during, and after the Christmas holy day.