[Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24]
We are now one week away from Christmas Day. This is the time when, typically, many people travel, usually to be with family. Often, they have been planning the journey for quite a while. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when those plans can be thwarted by various travel disruptions. A road trip might be stymied because of a winter storm, or air travel blocked by flight cancellations. We can expect to see many news reports of people’s well-laid plans upended by travel disruptions.
Such a report is given in the scriptural texts for today’s mass. They recount a travel disruption in the life of Joseph and Mary, one initiated by God Himself. Joseph and Mary had formulated their own “travel plan”, as it were, for their life together. Like any couple, they would have had their own hopes, dreams, and expectations regarding the journey they would undertake together as husband and wife. The travel disruption occurred when God intervened with His own plan. The Gospel of Luke, we know, records the annunciation by Gabriel to Mary that she would virginally conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Today’s passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel recounts an angelic announcement to Joseph, in which the nature of the conception is explained to him, and he is commanded to take Mary as his wife and become the legal foster father to the child sent by God to save the world from sin.
That is quite the travel disruption! It is easy to imagine them thinking for a moment that God’s plan for them is not quite what they had had in mind. Now, when a flight is cancelled, we fuss and fume, get angry at airline personnel, and rant about the inconvenience, all the while knowing that our plans are usually only delayed and what we had planned for ourselves will eventually happen. With Mary and Joseph, though, their entire lives are being permanently re-directed by God, who calls them to abandon whatever personal plans and hopes they had cherished and surrender fully to His own. Yet from them there is no boiling over of frustration, complaining before the media, or demands for compensation. Instead, God has from Joseph an immediate obedience and from Mary a complete acquiescence. Their response to God is offered by the Gospel to us as the model we must imitate as disciples of Jesus, so we should ponder it carefully. In order to do so, we need first to consider closely what is behind the travel disruption caused by God’s intervention.
Key to understanding is the realization that God has His own “travel plans” with respect to humanity’s journey through time. From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve tragically determined to set out on their own path by relying not on God’s providence but their own pride, God determined to accompany His people throughout history, always drawing near to walk with them, guide them, and call them back from their waywardness. Along the way, He would make promises through the prophets to send a Saviour, who would usher into history divine mercy and thus bring about salvation through forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to the divine life. Foremost among those promises is one spoken through Isaiah. It is recorded in the first reading, and recalled by Saint Matthew: “‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, ‘God is with us.’”
With this as background, we can see why Joseph was immediately obedient. By the angel he was made aware that God is again intervening in history, yet now in a wondrous way through himself and Mary, to fulfill his promises of salvation. Joseph would not have understood fully how this would all unfold for them, of course, but clearly for him such full understanding was unnecessary. He trusted God, placed his full confidence in God’s plan, not his own, and acquiesced to the travel disruption. He obeyed because he trusted God.
Here the Gospel touches our lives by summoning us to trust God as did Mary and Joseph, with complete faith in divine wisdom and providence. By the Holy Spirit, God is always at work in the world, to fulfill in us and in all people the saving plan He accomplished in His Son. Are we prepared to welcome and surrender to the travel disruption that occurs whenever God intervenes in our lives? For example, when by His Word God disrupts sinful patterns of thought or action, shall we in humility repent and change direction, or pridefully continue with our own travel plans? Or, when through the voice of the Church God calls us, as disciples of Jesus, to surrender our plans to His for the sake of the Gospel, shall we, like Mary and Joseph, follow in faith and trust wherever the Lord leads, or continue to pursue our own designs? Not all travel disruptions are bad. When brought about by God’s intervention in our lives, they are meant for our salvation and that of the whole world.
Those who belong to Jesus Christ live by what Saint Paul calls “the obedience of faith”. This means imitating the example of Mary and Joseph by trusting God in all things, surrendering to His commands, and following wherever His intervention directs us. God is intervening now, here the Eucharist. May the grace of this sacrament effectively disrupt any “travel plans” that lead away from Christ, and enable us to surrender, with full faith and trust, to the saving plan of God.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
December 18th, 2022