“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” (Mt 1,18-20)
Today our Advent journey brings us to Joseph, a righteous man, of the tribe of Benjamin, of the house of David. Mary is betrothed to Joseph who proves to be an ideal husband. Joseph has an ideal characteristic that I think that every woman would love to see in a husband – Joseph listens. Sacred Scripture does not record any of Joseph’s words but it does record his listening silence. The listening of Joseph is the foundation of his righteousness.
When Joseph first finds that Mary is with child, he listens. Joseph first listens to the law of God. As a righteous man, Joseph would first turn to the law for advice as to what is to be done in this difficult situation. Joseph not only listens to the law with his mind, to know what to do, but he also listens with his heart to find the most merciful way of fulfilling the requirements of the law.
Before Joseph acts on the law, an angel is sent to Joseph with a message from God. God speaks to Joseph and once again Joseph listens. Joseph knows how to listen to God in prayer. Joseph doesn’t ask a lot of questions or provide excuses for why he wouldn’t be able to follow God’s word. Joseph listens to the word of God that has been revealed to him, he changes his plans and he obeys that word that reveals God’s plan.
The Rule of St. Benedict opens with these words: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is the advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” The Rule of St. Benedict is the foundation for many in religious life today. That rule begins with the admonition to listen, and to listen with the ear of your heart. Listening leads to obedience. If one is to pursue a way of righteousness or holiness, it must begin with listening. If you don’t know how to listen, you will not know how to answer God’s commandment to love.
In Advent we need some silence. We need some still and quiet space in which we can listen for the Word of God. Often this quiet space is in our hearts so that we can listen with the ear of our heart to what God is asking of us. Advent is a preparation for the Word to enter into our human existence and to make his dwelling among us. The needed preparation to ready ourselves to receive the Word is listening. To listen to that Word properly we need to give our entire attention, indeed our entire lives, to receiving the Word and then following the Word, allowing the Word to transform our lives. Joseph teaches us how to listen to the Word of God. May Joseph help each of us to put an ear on our hearts and listen in love. Be still, God is about to speak, listen, the Lord is near.