Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Joseph the Teacher

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 1, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Surely by now it has struck our ears – the traditional Advent refrain: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel!” These soulful words echo throughout the season of Advent which now occupies the attention of God’s faithful. Just as “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World” champion the heart and soul of the Christmas season, the Advent song about the coming of Emmanuel encapsulates the patient waiting mood of this season’s special grace.

There is no counting of shopping days before Christmas here. The waiting for the coming Emmanuel – the name means “God is with us” – speaks to the cadence of the searching human heart. Waiting in need for the satisfaction of inner hunger; waiting in need for the completion of life’s journey; waiting in need for freedom from selfishness and sin. Indeed, O God, send us someone to save us! We are waiting! When on earth (literally) will you do something?

In the sacred season of waiting which prepares us for the feast of Christmas, we join with all those who have waited – and still do wait – for the grace of God’s life to burst upon them. We wait for the reality of God’s love to touch and transform our hearts. For the contemporary man or woman whose life often is cadenced by the flick of computer keys, waiting is a difficult mode of existence. For us, life often is just not fast enough. (Look at our impatience with the pace of traffic or the more-than-30-seconds pause at the drive-in speaker phone.) Why is it that we seem to be in such a mad to rush to get somewhere? Why is it that our computer literate fingers speed past our hearts, leaving them with an ache which often goes ignored, misunderstand, or stuffed away?

During this Advent season, St. Joseph, the furniture maker from Nazareth, may well be our source of inspiration. In more ways than we may want to admit, he is so much like a good number of us.

Joseph probably was just a young man, full of hope and dreams about his future. He probably worked hard at his carpentry business “to get ahead,” as we are wont to say nowadays. The carpentry business itself was an indication of his middle-income social status. A typical man of his age, he undoubtedly dreamed of that day when the village matchmaker would set him up with some gorgeous maiden. Then would come the family, the children, togetherness and a bright future of career blessed by love. All he had to do was just wait....

A Jew by religious affiliation, Joseph undoubtedly professed a belief in the coming of the Messiah. He likely prayed daily for the coming of the Lord’s Anointed. And he waited. Would it be blasphemous to conjecture that even for Joseph the waiting was not all that deliberate? Not unless he chose to make it so. After all, the Jewish community had waited for centuries – for centuries! – for the coming of the Messiah. And no star seemed to be on the horizon.

Waiting when there is no obvious action in town is difficult. It easily becomes pro forma. Even when celebrated in religious ritual, the wait does not necessarily move hearts and change lives. Like any one of us, Joseph basically went about his own life. Even if we picture him as a man of deep faith, his expectation probably was not that the Messiah would come in his lifetime. And certainly the Holy One of Israel would not engage the likes of him in such a momentous event. God spare him, in any case! Joseph had his own plans.

Yet right when everything seemed to be falling into place according to his personal plans – matchmaker and all – the waiting really took a surprising twist. For Joseph and for all of Israel. For all of humankind.

Centuries later, we find ourselves captured by yet another season of waiting. Advents colors and mood surround us anew. Or is it yet another season of shopping and its partners of busy-ness and travel plans? The choice is ours.

Obviously, we no longer wait for the coming of the Messiah in the fundamental way in which Joseph did. His wife, Mary, has given birth to our Savior. Our waiting is different, but it is still waiting – waiting for the final completion of Christ’s salvation in us; waiting for our identity and that of Jesus to become one; waiting for the awesomeness of the Word Incarnate to strike us with its transforming power; waiting for Christ to come into our celebration of Christmas.

Like Joseph of old, we all have our plans, our dreams, and our hopes for the future. Like him, we can expend a lot of energy to make it all happen. This Advent season can act as a reminder that, as with Joseph, our plans are nothing if they are not made in God. Perhaps this year God has something else in store for us beyond our own aspirations. The grace of waiting is not in the anticipation of the expected, but in the openness of heart to whatever…. What does God have in store for you or me this time ’round?

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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