2004—Fourth Sunday of Advent—A
When Joseph awoke from his dream, he did as the angel commanded and took Mary into his home. What makes Joseph a man of such great courage and hospitality? On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, what can we learn from Joseph about welcoming Christ into our home?
Whenever I hear this story of Joseph I am brought back in time to the Christmas pageant that was performed every year by the eighth grade students at my parish grammar school. The pageant was pretty much the same every year - same costumes, same Polish Christmas songs, same script - so I saw it at least eight times, and when I reached the eighth grade, I was one of the performers. The teacher really liked me, so she gave me the coveted role of St. Joseph, which was one of the few speaking parts in the pageant. The shepherds had a few lines, and the angels had a few lines, but the longest dialogue in the show was between Joseph and the evil innkeeper. Now, if you read the Gospel carefully, you'll notice that there really is no innkeeper character in the story. There's just the report that there was "no room at the inn." So the evil innkeeper in the pageant was a creation of my teacher's imagination. This innkeeper was a caricature of evil. He was the true villain of the Christmas pageant. He was the Grinch and Scrooge all wrapped up into one . . . but in this case there was absolutely no hope for redemption. This evil innkeeper was pretty much the antithesis of St. Joseph, so when they appeared on stage together the tension was palpable. I don't remember any of the innkeeper's lines, but I do remember his scowl and his long finger pointing off stage, directing Joseph and Mary down the road to the cold stable on the outskirts of town.
Maybe this Advent you find yourself identifying more with the evil innkeeper than the saintly Joseph. But deep down we really don't want to be the innkeeper. We want to be Joseph. We want to welcome Christ into our home with the freedom and hospitality of Joseph. We want to have room for Christ to stay, even if it means readjusting our schedule, or our life, to provide him with a place to be born this Christmas. So, what's Joseph's secret? What makes Joseph so open and hospitable to the coming of Christ into his home and into his life? What makes Joseph so willing to sacrifice his dreams for the dreams of God? I think that part of Joseph's secret is that his dreams are God's dreams. Because he is a man of prayer who is deeply rooted in the dreams of his people for a messiah, he can respond immediately to God's request for assistance with the divine plan. Because Joseph dreams God's dreams, because Joseph shares God's vision for the world, he is ready and willing to open his home to Mary and the child she carries. In contrast, perhaps the dreams and vision of the innkeeper are too small. Perhaps if the innkeeper took the time to dream God's dreams he would recognize the Christ who knocks on his door.
Throughout this season of Advent the same angel who appeared to Joseph has been speaking to us and helping us to dream the dreams of God. "Do not be afraid," the angel tells us. ". . . For it is through the Holy Spirit that the Christ will be conceived in you." For the past four Sundays we've heard the visions and dreams of God proclaimed from this pulpit. We've been told to "stay awake" for these dreams are waking dreams that stir us into action. We've dreamt of the Lord's holy mountain to which all the nations shall stream, beating their swords into ploughshares. We've dreamt about the peacable kingdom in which the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. We've dreamt about the desert and parched land exulting, and the steppe rejoicing and blooming with abundant flowers and joyful song. We've dreamt about how the eyes of the blind will be opened, how the ears of the deaf will be cleared, how the lame will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing. These dreams have been given to us this Advent to help us prepare to respond to Christ's coming with all the courage and hospitality, all the conviction and generosity of Joseph.
Have we let these dreams become such a part of us that our small innkeeper dreams pale in comparison? Have we allowed these dreams of God to prepare us to say, "Yes, come in . . . there is room for you in our hearts, in our lives . . . there is room for the poor and the lame, the blind and the deaf." There is room for you, Lord. Come into our home. Make our dreams a reality. Come, Jesus, Savior, Emmanuel . . . Be with us.