During the Advent season, our family follows a special devotion to St. Joseph, who prepared the way for coming of Christ. We do much of Advent by candlelight – at least dinner and Evening Prayer – to think about the the True Light coming into the darkness. To Evening Prayer we add the Litany of St. Joseph.
But maybe more important than the Litany, we put out our nativity set piece by piece. The first week it is just St. Joseph, wandering in the candle light, looking for a place for Christ. The second week he finds the empty manger. The third week – Gaudete Sunday – Mary appears at his side. And the fourth week, all the animals arrive, eagerly awaiting our joyful hope.
For me at least, the Litany serves primarily to help me ponder the image of St. Joseph, preparing the way.
But I find St. Joseph, wandering alone in the candlelight, also a fine image of the threefold coming. He is preparing for the birth of Christ. But he also seems to stand for the Church of the last age, awaiting the final coming of Christ. And so he helps us enter into the apocalyptic meaning of the everyday: that here and now, we wait for Christ to come.
Every day the Liturgy begins with Psalm 95: “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” else he will say, “they shall not enter into my rest.” Every day we are looking, listening, for the coming of Christ. Every day we are longing to enter into his rest.
The Greek word “apocalypse,” almost exactly translated by the Latin word “revelation,” does not mean “cataclysm” or “end of the world.” It means “removing” (apo-, re-) “the veil” (kalupsis, velatio). Apocalyptic literature, including especially the apocalypse, or “revelation” to St. John at the end of the Bible, is not primarily about the end of the world. It is about now. It draws away the veils that cover spiritual reality, so that we can see what’s really going on: the great spiritual warfare, between the Lamb and the Beast.
It shows that the real end time is now: not because the world is going to end tomorrow (though it might), but because the ultimate battle is already at work.
Or, to put it more positively, to show that we stand, today, with St. Joseph, preparing for the coming of Christ. The true battle is not really which side we will choose. The Anti-Christ is only a negation, the rejection of Christ. The true battle is whether we will accept Christ. Whether we will welcome him, make a place for him to come.
The final judgment will be nothing but gazing on the face of the poor Christ, the one who was pierced, the Lamb who was slain, and accepting him or not. And we prepare for that final judgment by the daily judgment: by welcoming or not welcoming his coming today. We welcome that coming in the Eucharist. But we welcome it, also, in the “least of these”: in Matthew 25, Jesus says that when he comes in glory, the “judgment,” our true acceptance of him in his final coming, will be based on a lifetime of accepting or rejecting him in the hungry, thirst, naked, sick, foreign, and imprisoned.
We prepare to welcome him in the final coming by welcoming him in the daily coming. And in Advent we are encouraged to think of those two comings in terms of his first coming: as a poor child, welcomed into the world by the poor man St. Joseph.
So who was St. Joseph? The Litany calls him “obedient and loyal.” The second word gives some depth to the first. He does what he is told by God’s messenger – but not just in blind obedience, but more deeply, in loyalty, faithfulness, love.
He is “lover of poverty.” He who wanders in the candlelight could run away from the call of Jesus. With Jesus, there will be no room for him in the inn. He will be an exile. But the measure of his loyalty, the measure of his love, is his embrace of that poverty: for where Jesus is, there is a treasure this world cannot offer.
And he is “husband of the Mother of God,” protector of Mary and of all virgins, of all that is delicate. He welcomes Christ not by being stern and cold, but by being tender, loving, loyal, by embracing the sweetness of Our Blessed Lady.
Let us have the strength to stand against the apocalyptic spirit of anti-Christ – by joining the tender loyalty of St. Joseph, lover of poverty, model of workers, guardian of all that is delicate and innocent.
What is the call of St. Joseph in your life this Advent?