We had some pretty bad snow, ice and a very low wind chill factor this last weekend, so I ended up cancelling all Saturday and Sunday Masses. It might seem like a mini-vacation, but it was not so for me. Whenever I cancel Mass it is actually quite agonizing. I want to celebrate Mass and spend time with my people, so it feels like I am being "kept prisoner" by the circumstances and prevented from being with them. Therefore, since none of my parishioners heard my homily this weekend, I have written it down in summary form here (which is something I never do since I always preach from a few "bullet point" notes). Here it is below:
Mark was starting his first job with his uncle's construction business. On the first day of work, his uncle told him to look over the tools that they brought to the site, and make sure they were all in good working order. If he found any that were not, he was to tell his uncle immediately before trying to repair them. As he examined the tools he found that the tips on the measuring tapes were all loose. His uncle looked busy, and so he figured he would show some initiative and just fix them himself. So he took a hammer and whacked at them until the tips were stationary. It did not take long before Mark's uncle noticed that all the boards being cut were off by about 1/8 inch. You see, the "loose tip" on the measuring tape is supposed to be that way. This is because if you measure from the inside, the tip is supposed to move out, and if you measure from the outside, the tip is supposed to move in, in order to compensate for the width of the tip itself. Yet, Mark, though he meant well, did not really obey. He had good intentions but he still chose his own way.
In the gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are given the story about St. Joseph's struggle with the news of Mary's pregnancy. He sought to do what was right, but did not have the full information. When the angel spoke to him and told him what the right path was, how did he respond? He did not say "that sounds nice, but I think I know a better way". No, he "did as the angel of the Lord commanded him". We do not know how much Joseph understood about what God was doing, but we do know that Joseph realized God had been working long before the angel arrived, so he willingly obeyed, even though he may have been confused.
The difference between obedience and disobedience is clear to all of us, but what about the difference between willing obedience and grudging obedience? The first is done with joy and without hesitation. The second is done with frustration and a selfish motivation. We all can easily slip into the latter, but we know that God is calling us to the former, and that is the example that we see in St. Joseph: "OK, Lord, though it may not make sense, I know that obedience is what is expected of me".
The reading from Romans for Sunday spoke about the "obedience of faith". This is portrayed as the entire goal of the Apostles: that people would obey God out of a heart of faith, rather than merely a sense of obligation. We are supposed to obey because we want to, not just because we are supposed to. This is what parents should be teaching their children: obey because it is right and good and leads to eternal joy.
Here is the final point in our Advent preparations for Christmas. Commit yourself to a having a heart of obedience, a heart that looks first to do what you are called to do. Do this because obedience changes us, for the better. When we obey, and especially when we live a life directed toward obedience, the very act of submission to God helps to change our very souls. It helps us to grow in love for God, and find wisdom in all of life's challenges.
For each of us, God is working on something in our lives. That is much of the purpose of Advent, to allow God to do that work without getting in His way. What is God working on in your life? How is He preparing you for a deeper relationship with Him? Just as St. Joseph obeyed and found great joy in the birth of Christ, so also we must learn greater obedience so that we may find joy in the actual celebration of Christmas (and I am not referring to the "fluff" of Christmas, but the Christmas Mass itself). This is what it means to live in God's grace.