2 Samuel 7:1-15, 8B-12, 14A, 16
The Gospels do not relate a single word spoken by Joseph, the husband of Mary. He is a silent, loving figure standing in the shadows during Advent, coming into view only in the final days of this season of watching and waiting. And, while we do hear from Mary in the gospels of Luke and John, few of her words have come down to us.
Despite the fact that we hear so little from the parents of Jesus, we can nevertheless recognize one particular virtue that both shared: obedience.
“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.” … When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
—Matthew 1:20, 24
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
“Obedience” isn’t a particularly popular word in our culture, including within the Church. Sadly, too many people have to come to associate obedience with some sort of blind submission. Instead, if we look at the history of the word, we see that it comes from two Latin words, ob and audire, and our English word “obedience” means to listen or to hear.
This sense of listening doesn’t mean that we simply take in and then follow the commands of another person. Obedience like that shown by Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin is a deeper sort of awareness and intentionality. Joseph and Mary listened, yes, but with their heart. This is the kind of obedience that we Christians are called to in our relationship with God and with one another. Reflecting on this, Father Lucian Diess, C.Ss.P., once wrote,
What was the influence of Joseph’s—and Mary’s—obedience on the formation of the child Jesus? Did they, in the child’s presence, speak about the ‘angel of the Lord’ who visited Joseph three times? … The obedience of Jesus perfectly reflected the religious atmosphere of the family whose head was Joseph. Concerning his obedience to the heavenly Father, Jesus would declare later on, ‘I always do what is pleasing to him’ (John 8:29). (from Joseph, Mary, Jesus)
To say it another way, to be obedient as a Christian is to say, “I love you so much and am so in tune with your needs and desires that words are unnecessary.” To get a sense of this, think of married couples who have been together for several years and who can anticipate each other’s needs or of a parent who knows what their child is feeling without any words ever having been spoken. Obedience, in its truest sense, isn’t about submission to the will of another. Obedience is about relationships.
As we have journeyed through the season of Advent, we’ve heard promises from prophets and priests; we have received admonitions from St. Paul, urging us to be patient and to hope. More than that, Jesus has reminded that he will come again in judgment and power in the fullness of time to bring about the full realization of Reign of God. These have been days of hope, expectation, waiting, perseverance, and, yes, obedience. Because, like Joseph and Mary who said “yes” to what was asked of them, God has also been asking something of us in these Advent days. And what is it God is asking? He asks for obedience in faith (c.f. Romans 1:5).
In a 1966 Advent reflection, Dorothy Day wrote:
Faith is required when we speak of obedience. Faith in a God who created us, a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Faith in a God to whom we owe obedience for the very reason that we have been endowed with freedom to obey or disobey. Love, Beauty, Truth, all the attributes of God which we see reflected about us in creatures, in the very works of man himself whether it is bridges or symphonies wrought by his hands, fill our hearts with such wonder and gratitude that we cannot help but obey and worship.
Ultimately, our Advent journey has been a time of discipleship. We are being asked to trust that God has kept—and continues to keep—the promises made to our spiritual ancestors so many centuries ago. Part of this trust is our awareness of how Christ is present and active among us today.
As we look to the final days of Advent, ask St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin to help you cultivate a spirit of humble obedience so that you are able to discern what God is asking of you in these holy days. Offer a prayer of thanks for the ways that you experience the presence and power of Emmanuel—God—With—Us.
Br. Silas Henderson, S.D.S.
O God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word
the immaculate Virgin received through the message of an Angel
and so became the dwelling-place of divinity,
filled with the light of the Holy Spirit,
grant, we pray, that by her example
we may in humility hold fast to your will.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen
—(The Collect for the Mass of December 20 from The Roman Missal)