3rd Tuesday of Advent
Yesterday’s Gospel began with “the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David”, and in today’s Gospel the angel of the Lord calls the foster father of Jesus, “Joseph, son of David”. Between Joseph and Jesus there will be a certain family likeness to David. Jesus will be what the first reading calls “a righteous shoot to David”, who will “do what is just and right in the land”, and in that way, Jesus will take after his legal father Joseph, who is also a son of David.
Doing what is just and right can sometimes mean waiting in silence for the saving help of the Lord, as the book of Lamentations puts it. Joseph had intended to divorce Mary quietly, but when God made his will known, he put aside his own plans without a word and took her into his home. It never entered his head to question the angel of the Lord; when he woke up he did what the angel had told him to do. Willing, unquestioning obedience is the secret of his life, and it is his counter-cultural message for us today. The world may admire sacrifice and self-giving love, but it does not encourage us to imitate these virtues.
St Benedict recognized this when he wrote about the kinds of monks. He called them “sarabaites, the most detestable kind of monks”. These are the ones who are still loyal to the world by their actions. “Without a shepherd”, he says, “they pen themselves up in their own sheepfolds, not the Lord’s. Their law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy. Anything they believe in and choose, they call holy; anything they dislike, they consider forbidden”.
For someone writing in the sixth century, that’s not a bad description of many people living outside the monastery today. Without a leader, they confine themselves to their own politically correct tribe, instead of being what the Offertory prayer calls “companions of Christ”. Their law is their own agenda, not the will of God.
These sarabaites, whether inside the monastery or outside of it, are slaves of their self-will. Anything that makes real demands of them is rejected as not in keeping with their spirituality or their self-image. Asceticism has no place in their life; and what is worse, God himself has trouble communicating with them because the noise of their self-concern blocks out his messages of grace.
St Joseph was very different. He had a quiet and willing readiness to serve, and experienced another of the many paradoxes of the spiritual life: that to serve God is the most perfect form of freedom, just as to serve our self-will is to be weighed down by slavery. Let us take to heart the example of God’s servant Joseph, and ask God to free us from what the Collect calls “slavery beneath the yoke of sin”. May we respond to God’s will as Joseph did, with the obedience which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.