Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The man with the hammer and saw
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Dec. 6, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
It’s time to put Christmas music on the stereo! …well, at least (for the purist) Advent theme music. And surely it would not be Advent without hearing again the pleading words, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Just as “Silent Night” captures the essence of the Christmas season, the Advent melody of “Emmanuel” encapsulates the patient waiting mood of the Advent season. No counting the shopping days before Christmas here. The waiting of the coming of Emmanuel – waiting to know that “God is with us” – speaks to the cadence of the 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!
During the period of holy waiting which prepares for the feast of Christmas, we join with all those who have and do wait for the grace of life to burst upon them. We wait for the reality of God’s love to touch and transform our lives.
For the contemporary man or woman whose life responds to the flick of computer keys, waiting is a difficult mode of existence. For us, life often is just not fast enough. We seem to be in a mad to rush to get somewhere. But often our computerized fingers speed past our hearts, leaving them with an ache that often goes ignored, misunderstood, or stuffed deep away.
During this Advent season, Joseph of Nazareth – the man with the hammer and saw – may well be our source of inspiration. In more ways than we realize, he is much like a good number of us. He probably was a young person, full of hope and dreams about the future. He most likely worked hard at his carpentry business to get ahead. The 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 lovely maiden. Then would come the family, togetherness and a bright future for all. Just wait....
A Jew by religious affiliation, Joseph professed a belief in the coming of the Messiah. He undoubtedly even prayed often for the coming of the Lord’s Anointed. He waited. But back then the waiting was more cultural than deliberate, 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 was on the horizon.
Waiting when there is no obvious action in town is difficult. It so easily becomes pro forma. Even when marked by religious ritual, the wait does not move and change. 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. Right when everything seemed to be falling into place according to plan – matchmaker and all – the waiting really came to an end. For Joseph and for all of Israel. For all of humankind.
Centuries later, we find ourselves captured by another season of waiting – or just shopping. The choice is ours. Obviously, we do not wait for the coming of the Messiah. Joseph’s virgin 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 expend a lot of energy to make it all happen.
This Advent season can act as a reminder that our plans are nothing if they are not made in God. Perhaps God has something else in store for us beyond our 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 the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)