In today’s Gospel story, we have the angel of God appearing to Joseph in a dream. By this time Joseph has already discovered Mary’s pregnancy, and he knows the child cannot be his. Joseph never says a single word in the entire gospel, but we can imagine how heartbroken he must have been.
He can choose to denounce Mary publicly, expose her to shame and actually endanger her life. The law of Moses, after all, prescribes that any woman found guilty of adultery may be stoned to death. But because, we are told, Joseph is a decent man, and we suspect, because he also continues to love Mary even if he believes that she has betrayed him, Joseph decides instead to divorce Mary quietly. He goes to bed one night heartbroken, believing that no matter how painful it will be, he has no choice but to let go and move on. He is eager to close this painful chapter of his life. “Let it go, Joseph,” he must have told himself–maybe through gritted teeth, maybe through copious tears. “Let go of Mary. Let go of your love for her.”
But then that same night the angel of the Lord visits him and tells him the very same thing that Mary has probably been trying to tell him, that the child she bears in her womb is not of any man, but of the Holy Spirit and will grow up to be their people’s savior. “Let it go, Joseph,” the angel must have told him. “Unclench your fists and your heart. Let go of your anger. Let go of your suspicion, your doubts, and take Mary as your wife–and her son as your own.”
We are told that when Joseph wakes up from the dream, he does exactly as the angel in the dream has commanded. He takes Mary into his home, and when the child is born he does exactly what the angel has instructed him and Mary to do: they name him Jesus. And so the story of redemption continues…
But we can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for Joseph after his dream. Whenever the Gospel falls silent and does not say anything, it is inviting us to read between its lines so that we can enter into the story more deeply and unwrap its message more. So here we are told nothing about Joseph’s thoughts and feelings, so we must wonder…
Upon waking from the dream, Joseph may actually have wondered about the angel: “Maybe I don’t need to follow the message. Maybe it’s only a stupid dream.” When he does take Mary into his home, he may have asked himself: “Is this what I really want?” He knows that by agreeing to marry Mary and to play father to her child, their neighbors will think him a fool, pointing at him whenever he passes them and laughing behind his back. As it is, their village already rife with rumors about Mary’s indiscretion. Also, by doing what the angel says, he knows that he may also well be giving up his chance to do what at that time is of absolute importance to every Jewish man–to father sons of his own, continue his line, and preserve his name. Finally, to be father to the Holy Child in a world fraught with dangers… Can he rise to this challenge? Can he do it?
We can imagine Joseph taking a deep breath and telling himself: “Let it go, Joseph. Let go of your fears, your doubts. Let go especially of your own needs, of your own dreams. The world’s needs are way more important than yours, and God’s dreams are far greater.” Joseph has to let go in order to make room in his life–and in his heart–for the Christ Child.
It’s not easy to let go of our needs or our dreams. We usually grow quite attached to them, and it’s painful to have to give them up. We also know how difficult it is to let go of our pains, our hurts, as well as our doubts, suspicion, and anger. Our passions have a way of possessing us. Our anger can consume us, and our fears paralyze us. Through his decisions and actions, the foster father of Jesus teaches us the quiet art of letting go, giving things up one thing after another without a word of complaint. The irony is that Joseph has been able to let go and at the same time “hold it all in.” When it’s our turn to give up things, we usually can’t help but complain or whine about it. We almost have this need to let people know just how much effort we have exerted and how much our sacrifices have cost.
But not Joseph, not this quiet man of Advent.
Today we are invited to pause and think about Joseph, this man who does not utter a single word in the entire Gospel. Joseph has made many great but quiet sacrifices, without which Christmas would not have been possible. Maybe this Advent we are being asked to give up a few things as well. If this is the case, we can turn to Joseph to teach us how to let go of the things that get in the way of the Lord: anger, doubts, fears, broken-heartedness, our needs, and dreams. Maybe we’ll hear his voice gently encouraging us: “Let it go. Just let it go.”
Whatever it is that gets in the way of the Lord’s advent to us in our lives today, may we make the decision to let it go–and to let it go quietly.