The truth is this: none of us avoids a crisis. All of us have trouble during our lives. Someone may appear to be always on top of the world, but this observation may only show that we do not know that person well. Take a man who is successful in business, who cannot help to, it seems, but make money. He is elegantly dressed -- his shoes are shined, his tie is choice, his cuff-links gleam. He has a warm smile, a firm handshake, a confident voice. But look beyond all that, and find out more. Get to know the man and you will find that there has been or is still some crisis in his life.
Appearances can be deceiving! Even the successful, the self-assured, the attractive person has his or her burden to bear. None of us avoids crisis. All of us have trouble while our lives. Because this is so, the great difference between people does not lie between those free from trouble and the rest of us. The great difference appears between those people who are vanquished by their problems and those people who find in their problems something worthwhile that redeems the rest. This week’s Gospel tells "the other annunciation story." This one is to Joseph, remember him?
Before he arrives at the stable in Bethlehem he is simply a young man who wants to marry his fiancee, settle down, make an honest living as a carpenter, and raise a family. Then it happens! Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, and knows that he is not the father. He feels betrayed, rejected. The engagement must end, and with it the hope this couple has had for a happy life together. Joseph decides to end the engagement quietly rather than subject Mary to public disgrace. A quiet ending will spare him and Mary and their families a great deal of grief.
But still Joseph is heartsick. Nothing is to come of his love for Mary, nothing at all. She will have no future now, and he does not want the future that probably awaits him. Joseph lies awake at night pondering the apparent horror that has overtaken him. Finally, he falls asleep. But his sleep is not peaceful. His sleep is disturbed by a dream, the sort of dream one still remembers years later. In his dream a brilliant heavenly figure appears to Joseph -- the angel of the Lord. The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid, but to keep his pledge to marry despite everything.
For the child that Mary carries will be a boy, and Jesus is to be his name. That name means Saviour. It will be the right name for this child. Joseph wakes up, strangely tranquil, at peace, because of the dream. He does what the angel told him to do. He marries his fiancee as planned, the baby boy is born, and he is named Jesus. People assume that Joseph is his father. But Joseph and Mary know otherwise. There was a crisis! A great deal of trouble, a menacing dark cloud threatened! And what happened? Joseph is not crushed by the events in his life. The message changes everything and would have been useless except for one thing: Joseph is willing to hear it and act on it.
Joseph is willing to hear the message and act on it. So, Joseph faces one crisis after another. He has trouble enough -- and to spare! But he hears the messages intended for him and takes the necessary action. What makes Joseph so receptive? Joseph, we are told is a righteous man, obedient to God. God is not a stranger to Joseph, so when a crisis comes to him and God sends him a message, Joseph hears the message and does what must be done. Joseph was a man of faith before the crisis, so when the crisis comes he can act in faith, to do the right thing.
Think about Joseph's story. In his story lies an important reason for us all to live a life of prayer, an important reason for the regular practice of prayer. If we are in relationship with God through a life of prayer, if we value God's company on ordinary days, then, when the day of crisis arrives and our world seems to come apart at the seams, we can recognize God's voice speaking to us at the heart of the crisis, we can respond in faith by doing what God would have us do, by living as God would have us live.
Many people see frightening possibilities in this relationship of humankind to God. Some people say, "Life is challenging enough if you have faith; but what happens to people who have no faith, who do not pray? What happens to them when the inevitable crisis occurs?" Imagine this, people say: "What happens when people without faith lose a loved one? How can they begin to hear God's voice speaking softly to them in their bereavement when their grief shouts so hopelessly? In a troubled time, it can be hard for anyone to hear the divine voice, to see the vision of a greater purpose. But how hard it must be when we are left without the experience of listening to God in better times!"