Here is Friday’s column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.
Christmas is more than the tree, the carols, the presents, and the feasting. Christmas is more than even time with family and friends. Christmas is our recollection and celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who was born more than 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem.
Christmas is the celebration of a fact of history, a reality: that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world, and that through his life, death, and resurrection, death itself was defeated, and we can now share the glory of the Trinity for all eternity.
Christmas comes, like Christ, into the world whether or not we are prepared for it. Christ has come into the world whether or not we really understand how and in what way his coming into the world will transform our lives. There is a danger at Christmas, that in the noise, and activity, and festivities of the season, we will not see the presence of Christ among us, or hear the voice of the Lord calling us to follow him in extraordinary ways.
There is, perhaps, no one who understands that more than St. Joseph. When Mary found out that she was with child, and would bear the savior of the world, she was engaged to an honest workingman, a carpenter from Nazareth named Joseph.
When the Blessed Mother had become pregnant, Joseph faced a difficult choice. The law required that if a betrothed woman was unfaithful, the engagement should be cancelled.
St. Joseph was a just man, who wanted to follow the law faithfully, and to follow it in love. In his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI explains that Joseph’s task was “to interpret and follow the law faithfully,” to decide whether to bring Mary to court, where her pregnancy would be exposed, or to quietly end the betrothal. St. Joseph knew that if Mary’s pregnancy had been exposed, she would have been outcast, shamed, and would have carried in their community the stigma of adultery.
Pope Benedict says that Joseph made a choice to love. “He does not want to give Mary up to public shame. He wishes her well, even in the hour of his great disappointment… He lives the law as Gospel. He seeks the path that brings law and love into a unity.”
For that reason, St. Joseph, following the law, decided to end his engagement quietly, rather than “put her to shame.”
Pope Benedict says that St. Joseph’s decision was the result of a lifetime spent in dialogue with God, a “man with roots in the living waters of God’s word.” Because of his justice, his mercy, and his intimate discipleship with God, Pope Benedict says that St. Joseph is “inwardly prepared for the new, unexpected, and humanly speaking incredible news that comes to him from God.”
In fact, after St. Joseph decided to quietly end his engagement, an angel appeared to him in a dream, telling him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
St. Joseph was given extraordinary clarity of vision, as a particular and special grace from the Lord. And because St. Joseph was a lifelong disciple of the Lord, who placed God’s revelation above his own desires or happiness, he heard the Lord’s call, even in his dream, and had the courage to follow it.
Pope Benedict writes that “this shows us an essential quality of the figure of St. Joseph: his capacity to perceive the divine and his ability to discern. Only a man who is inwardly watchful for the divine, only someone with a real sensitivity for God and his ways, can receive God’s message in this way.”
As God speaks to him through an angel, Pope Benedict says that “Joseph is drawn up into the mystery of God’s incarnation.”
The Lord wants to draw us up into the mystery of his incarnation, as well. God wants to redeem us, and make us holy, and he wants us to participate in his plan for the salvation of the world. God has a role for each one of us, an important place in the mystery of the incarnation.
We might miss it—we might not hear the Lord’s call, unless, like St. Joseph, we are “watchful for the divine,” we are in “dialogue with God,” we have cultivated an intimate friendship with the Lord. To become a part of the mystery of the incarnation, we need to seek God, in silence, in prudence, in discernment, and in faith. The Lord’s coming into the world, and into our lives, can surprise us. Like St. Joseph, we must be ready, and we must be listening.