As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting?
Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.
In this article as part of a series featured in the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the magi and St. Joseph.
The Magi: Watchfulness and Action
The magi were commonly thought of as astronomers, charting and tracking the stars and looking for heavenly bodies as predictors of earthly events. In the Old Testament, the term “wise men” is used in place of magi. What is it that made these men wise, as opposed to purely superstitious?
They have this lesson for living to teach us: watchfulness.
The magi had a desire to know truth and were watchful for God’s presence and for His plan, for a spiritual lesson to glean from their attentiveness to His movements in time and in their lives. That watchfulness opened the door for them to come face to face with the Savior. How often do we get so caught up in our lives—our family situations, our jobs, our medical problems, day to day tasks and chores, that we fail to be truly watchful, focused, and attentive on God’s presence and on His will for our lives? Do you allow our worries, responsibilities, and other things to distract you from the way God is working in you? These distractions are keeping you from meeting Jesus in an intimate way this Advent and on a regular basis in your life.
Take a moment to think about something in your life that is burdensome or distracting to you in some way. Maybe a relationship or a problem at work or a medical condition is keeping you from seeing how God is working—not necessarily in spite of that obstacle—but through that very obstacle, to make you a holier person this Advent.
Their second lesson is related to the first: action.
The magi didn’t just see the star of Bethlehem and say, “how nice.” They got up and they followed it! And their journey wasn’t nearly as comfortable as many of our journeys are these days with our ease of modern travel. But that didn’t matter to them. They knew they needed to take action.
Is there an area in your life where you are failing to take action right now when God may be calling you to move, to do, to change, to act? Maybe it’s in regard to that obstacle we spoke about just a moment ago, that obstacle that God is trying to work through to make His will known to you. How can you not only recognize God working in that area of your life, but then take some action, on your own part, to cooperate with God’s will?
St. Joseph: Humility and Devotion
Oh, St. Joseph. He is such a quiet figure in the Gospels—never speaking a single word, yet his actions speaking loudly about the kind of strong, humble, and devoted man he was.
First, St. Joseph teaches us how to be humble.
St. Joseph never thought too highly of himself. Even in Scripture, in Matthew’s genealogy at the beginning of the Gospel, the Gospel writer lists all of the people in the genealogy as the “father of” so-and-so except for Joseph. When we come to Joseph’s introduction into the genealogy, we read that Joseph was not the “father of” but the “husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt 1:15-16).
To reflect on the rest of St. Joseph’s first lesson for living, I’d like to refer to the words of Fr. Steve Grunow from Word on Fire Catholic Ministries:
“Saints are not celebrities, who leverage every detail about their lives as a means to be known and recognized. A saint is someone who in their desire to be like Christ is able and willing to disappear into the mission God gives to them. For some saints, this mission brings with it a great deal of attention. But for most saints, the life of grace involves a much lower profile and a death to self which requires an immersion into the most ordinary of circumstances. These circumstances are accepted by the saint because they know that it is precisely in the experience of what is apparently ordinary that God is accomplishing extraordinary things.
“Therefore, it is all of us, who right now find ourselves immersed in the mission to be the unnoticed saints of ordinary circumstances, who know that the silence of Saint Joseph speaks louder than any words.”
Before we move on from St. Joseph, let’s briefly discuss his second lesson for living that I’ve decided to focus on: devotion.
St. Joseph was a man entirely devoted to God and sacrificially devoted to his family. Pope Leo XIII called St. Joseph the “guardian of the Holy Family”—that’s how devoted a spouse and father to Jesus he was. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Joseph was a “just man” (Matt 1:19), meaning he was righteous and devoted to following God’s laws. I like to say that St. Joseph was devoted to spiritual leadership in his family. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it, he was “at the service of life and growth…St. Joseph…gave proof of great devotion. For the sake of Christ he experienced persecution, exile, and the poverty which this entails. He had to settle far from his native town. His only reward was to be with Christ.”
This Advent, become a stronger spiritual leader for your family, a devoted member of your family like St. Joseph, and you too will take a step closer to achieving that great reward of being with Christ.
To read other articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.