Readings: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Psalm 71; Matthew 1:18-24
A younger brother went to speak to an older brother. 'Abba Charles', he said, 'how am I to draw together the strings of my life? I am involved in many things and it seems as if my service of the Lord and of his people requires me to be, like Martha, busy about many things. Inside also my life usually feels fragmented, incomplete, unfinished. How am I to pull everything together, to see what pattern my life is making?'
The older brother replied, 'Brother Vito, it is not your job to pull together the strings of your life. That is God's job and God will show you some day the pattern your life is making. For now you must do what you are required to do, seek the Lord's will in each situation and circumstance, respond to the needs of the people who come to you for help. It is not your job to worry about what it all amounts to, what the overall pattern is.'
The incident comes to mind on hearing the name Jeremiah gives to God in today's first reading: 'The Lord-our-integrity'. Other translations are 'The Lord our justice' or 'The Lord is our righteousness'. The first translation chimes best with the story of Abba Charles and Brother Vito. We are not to look within ourselves for the ultimate integrity, justification, or righteousness of our lives. That is something God is shaping. We are, as St Paul says, God's work of art (Ephesians 2:10). Our job is to seek what is true and to do what is good, to serve justice and to show kindness, in each of the moments of each day. In another text Paul warns the Corinthians not to pass premature judgement (1 Corinthians 4:5) but rather to leave judgement to the Lord. Leave the justification of your life to God in whom we find our integrity.
The incident of Abba Charles and Brother Vito also comes to mind because today for the first time this Advent we meet another of its most important personalities, Joseph, the husband of Mary and the human father of Jesus. Joseph is described as a man of honour, a righteous man, a just man. He seems to be naturally good and trustworthy. But part of that goodness is to be open to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, to the guidance of God in the circumstances of his life. Like his namesake in the Book of Genesis, this Joseph is a dreamer. He trusts what is revealed to him by the angel of the Lord coming to him in his dreams.
Sleep, perchance dreaming, is a well known route for revelation, insight, deeper understanding. We talk about sleeping on things before coming to decisions about them. The psalmist puts it more beautifully, saying that the Lord pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber (Psalm 127). Joseph is open to receiving fresh light on what is happening. He is ready to trust the wider and deeper integrity of the Lord whose angel visits him. He is a man of spiritual maturity, ready therefore to enter into paradox and mystery. We can say that for Joseph too his integrity, his righteousness, is not just the natural goodness of his character but the work God is doing in him and through him. The pattern of his life, its meaning in the plan of God, is revealed not because Joseph himself sees it but because he is ready to allow the Lord to lead him into it.
Joseph waking up and taking Mary to his home echoes the moment when Adam wakes up and recognises Eve as 'bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh'. The moment of the new creation has come and its progenitors, under God, are a humble woman and a good man of Palestine. Each of them trusts in the God of surprises. God is ever creative and ever free, leading his servants into greater integrity, righteousness and justice, sometimes along unexpected roads. For Mary and Joseph it meant the surprising and extraordinary integrity given them as the parents of Jesus, the Messiah.