Advent is the time for rousing. We are shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves. The primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding Advent is renunciation, surrender. We must let go of all our mistaken dreams, our conceited poses and arrogant gestures, all the pretenses with which we hope to deceive ourselves and others. If we fail to do this, stark reality may take hold of us and rouse us forcibly in a way that will entail both anxiety and suffering. — Alfred Delp
I have always had a soft spot for Joseph. You have to imagine that things with Mary were not turning out as he had dreamed they would be. When I try to put myself in the place of a guy whose fiancé has just told him she is pregnant when it is obvious that he is not the father . . . well you can guess what that must have felt like. A kick to the stomach comes to mind. How humiliating to be made a cuckold.
Just as he is planning to quietly end the engagement to Mary he has an encounter with a holy messenger. Matthew 1:20-21 NRSV “… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ ” Joseph does as he is instructed. He takes Mary as his wife and he waits for the son to be born.
I wonder what this life-changing moment did to rouse Joseph? Delp tells us that Advent is a time when we are “shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves.” What dross was burned away from Joseph in the trial-by-fire that must have been his engagement and early marriage to Mary? What inner truth — what inner strength was revealed as he took on the role of father to a son he knew was not his? If Delp is right and “the primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding Advent is renunciation, surrender,” then Joseph was well prepared for the first Advent and serves as a model to those of us in the 2012th Advent.
What mistaken dreams, conceited poses, and arrogant attitudes prevent us from fully entering into this season of miracle, and astonishment, and joy, and hope? Where do we need to quit pretending and get real in order to embrace the new life that God is offering? The Son of God is coming! We have a savior on the way! That news seems as unlikely (and maybe as inconvenient) today as it did in first century Palestine, and yet that is the message. That is the reality around which we are asked to accommodate our lives.
And that points to the most fundamental truth about ourselves that most of us, most of the time, seem committed to ignoring — we need a savior. We are not self-made, and we are not self-sufficient. We are creatures and Advent is a reminder of that truth. Joseph was able, by God’s mercy, to see that he needed a Christ-child more than he needed his pride. He needed redemption more than he needed to be in control. He surrendered himself into God’s care and God’s plan and that has made all the difference.
God who has come and who is coming again, your coming to us clarifies everything. In anticipation of your coming we know to let everything that clings to us and distracts us to fall away. Burn away from us all that is not real, all that is insincere, so that we can learn to love ourselves and our neighbors as we truly are. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.