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Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” —Luke 1:38
The Gospels do not relate a single word spoken by Joseph, the husband of Mary. He is a silent, protecting figure standing in the shadows during the Season of 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.
“Obedience” isn’t a particularly popular word in our culture, including within the Church. Sadly, too many people have 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 St. 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.
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 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 Saint 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? For obedience in faith (see 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. And part of this trust is our awareness of how Christ is present and active among us today.
As Christmas approaches, ask St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin to help you cultivate a spirit of humble obedience so that you are able to discern what it is 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.
What gifts have you received during this days of watching and waiting?What gifts have you given to others to help them grow in faith in this Advent season?How can you take on obedience as a way of life beyond the days of Advent and Christmas?
Words of Wisdom: “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).”—Lucien Deiss, C.Ss.P., Joseph, Mary, Jesus