December 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, 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…’ (Matthew 1:18-20).
Making plans is important. A friend of mine once told me, “plan nothing, do nothing.” This statement has served many times to pull me out of a state of inertia, helping me keep things moving in whatever direction I have oriented myself, hopefully with God’s guidance. As with all truisms, however, there is a parallel truth: our plans can also lock us into doing things the same way we have always done them, or thinking about things the way we have always thought of them. Our plans can be a repository for stale perspectives and a fossilized posture toward the world.
Joseph offers us a helpful example of how to make plans but to also be open to a new way of thinking. He is operating under an assumption about Mary’s pregnancy that fits his world view, and so he makes plans to dismiss her quietly. He is open to new perspectives, however. He is open to knowing something surprising, something that is perhaps very difficult to believe. He is so open to this that he lets himself hear the Lord in a dream, telling him to take Mary as his wife. He doesn’t wake up and say, oh, that was just a dream. He wakes up and knows it was the Lord. He decides to listen to some new information, and to act on it. I imagine that he can do this because has an attitude of suspicion towards his old way of thinking and an attitude of openness to what might be shocking and revolutionary to his understanding of things. Instead of dismissing Mary, he welcomes her.
This story invites us to follow St. Joseph with the soul shaking knowledge that we are each called, in our own particular ways, to welcome the Christ Child into the world. So as we make our plans this Advent, whether they are spiritual or Christmas list related, we will be wise to pay attention to the other voices that come to us: the voices of our dreams; the voices in the quiet of our hearts. Voices that say something like actually, you might reconsider that plan, that judgment, that action, that assessment of the situation. Especially if it involves dismissing someone. Because we might be planning on dismissing someone like Mary, who is birthing God into the world. Joseph’s faithfulness teaches us that encounters with the holy often involve an upsetting of old plans, and a formulation of new ones.
– The Rev. Hugh M. Grant