[Fr. Gribowich is concluding his studies at U.C. Berkeley, as well as assisting at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley]
Good morning, everyone!
Happy 4th Sunday of Advent! I was here with you for the first Sunday of Advent, and now I’m here with the last Sunday of Advent. Maybe one of these years I’ll be here at Christmas, too, but that’s not going to happen this year, either, because I leave to go back to New York tomorrow. And I actually, unfortunately, this will come to the end of my time here at Saint Joseph’s, because my program at Berkeley wrapped up this semester, so I will not just be leaving and then coming back. I will be leaving pretty much for good, although I do hope to come back and visit in April, so I ask for your prayers.
And it’s very providential that the last time I will be able to spend with you, we hear this Gospel that speaks of how the birth of Jesus comes about through the lens, if you will, of St. Joseph. Since it’s very providential to be here at the church of St. Joseph and to preach about our patron saint, and of course during Christmas time there are not that many Christmas readings. In fact, the infancy narratives only happen in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. So we hear them often, and of course, we hear them so often, that we tend to kind of glossed over some of the details. But every single word in the scripture can ultimately be looked upon as being purposeful in some type of way, and if we look at how Joseph is described in this Gospel, I think it gives us some insight as to how we as Christians are called to live our lives.
Firstly, Joseph is known as a righteous man. He was a righteous man and therefore he knew what was right, and the fact that he learned that his soon-to-be wife was pregnant and he knew that he wasn’t the father, he knew that what to be right would be to somehow get out of this arrangements, to get out of this future marriage. He was righteous.
Sometimes we also hear that he was just – a just man, and we also hear once the angel Gabriel appears to Joseph, that he’s given a title, if you will: Joseph, son of David. Son of David.
So he’s a righteous man, and he’s a son of David, and why are those words so important in understanding who Joseph is? Because to be a righteous man – to be a righteous woman – to be a just man or just woman isn’t simply just about knowing what’s right and wrong. It’s more fundamentally important understanding who you are in relationship to God, who you are in relationship to God.
Joseph was righteous because he knew who God is, and he also knew who he was. He knew that he wasn’t God. He understood his relationship to God. He understood that he did not play God. He was not in charge of his destiny, if you will. He did not will himself into existence. He wasn’t responsible for his birth. Joseph is a righteous and just man because he understands who he is in relationship to God, and he stands in all of that relationship.
And in a very similar sense, as he’s called the son of David he understands that he participates in something much bigger than himself: a lineage that goes back to King David, and who he is actually as a human being is not singularly important . What is important is the fact that he comes from a royal house. Once again, something that he did not choose new or something that he deserved.
And when we think about that we can understand why Joseph was the exact right fit for what was to be the Holy Family. Think about what he had working against him: working with the sinless mother of God, and the son of God. If there was anything went wrong in the house it was Joseph’s fault. Only a man who was righteous and just and understood who he was in relationship to God and understood him playing a role in something bigger than himself could be able to humbly be able to be part of that family.
And the key takeaway here is that Joseph was willing to become nothing. He was willing to become nothing, and that actually is what each one of us are called to become: nothing. To enter into a state of nothingness. Even the great spiritual writers St. John of the Cross will talk about nada, nada, nada: nothing nothing nothing. To enter into a state of nothingness. It’s so nothing that there’s absolutely no recorded words of Joseph anywhere in scripture. We hear about his dreams, we hear about what he does, but he never actually speaks. He’s so nothing, even within the Gospels.
But the question is why are we called to become nothing? Sounds to be kind of a downer, and especially in our world where we seek very hard to find meaning as to why we’re here, and we work very hard at making sure that we’re making an impact within our families, our friends, our society, our world. However you want to look at, it all of us are striving. To understand what our vocation is. All of us are striving to be good people.
I come from the world of UC Berkeley where everyone is trying to change the world in some place, shape or form, yet nothing is what we’re ultimately called to. How does that square with this innate desire to want to be someone of importance? And it boils down to this: nothingness reveals to each and every one of us that God can and will use us to bring about something that we could never ever accomplish on our own.That’s why we’re called to be nothing, because if we have great dreams and great ideas, let’s look at this dream: Joseph you thought you were going to be able to be the husband of this young woman and to be able to walk with her on the journey of life together, if that was your dream: look at this dream. Your nothingness will bring something far greater than you could ever, ever imagine. You will have a role upbringing healing to the world through Jesus Christ, the son of God.
Our call to nothingness shows that each and every single person is a means of bringing about God’s presence his glory, his healing into a broken world. It’s not just for a few people it’s not just for priests and religious. it’s not just for the pope or other very influential people in the world who have special unique callings, because they’re very public about them. Every single person is a means of God’s healing in the world.
But the only way that we can be able to do that is to accept the fact that we can’t do it. That there’s nothing that we can do on our own power that can bring about changes in the world. We can’t even change ourselves on our own. It’s the great fallacy of our self-help culture that you can somehow fix yourself you can’t sure all those things can give you the techniques and means but ultimately until you’re able to say I give up, you will not be able to do what God wants for you to do. That is the great lesson of Joseph. That is why we call him saint. That is why he was honored to be part of the Holy Family. He knew who he was and he knew who he was not, and he accepted who he was not as a means of bringing his God – our God – into the world.
That same God – Jesus – once again comes to us at this mas,s and while Joseph was the one to behold and care for the baby Jesus, we are actually given the honor of becoming one with that baby: communion with that baby. The same Jesus born 2000 years ago comes into us as a sure sign that we are not alone, as a sure sign that it’s not about us mustering up the strength to be good people, as a sure sign that we’re given everything we need to become the Sons and Daughters of God, when we receive the Son of God and share in his sonship. That is what communion is: it is a way for us to once again claim our true identity. It is once the way yet again a way for us to be just and to be righteous and knowing who we are their relationship to God.
So as the next couple days ago – and we’re going to be hit with lots of challenges right? – for all the joy of the Christmas season we know that it brings a lot of challenges it seemed people that we don’t normally see it’s dealing with family friction, it’s dealing with lots of things that could go wrong around the house. We all know we have lots of stuff on our minds, but the great thing is though none of us can possibly think we can fix or make everything perfect around Christmas time, when we realize that it’s all about the one who we celebrate – Jesus – who is given permission by each one of us to bring about the healing that’s much needed in our world and maybe more locally with our in-laws.
So may God bless you. I will take you to prayer with me as I leave from here. I guess just as a practical side, I’m going to be for three months in a monastery praying and discerning what the next step is the Lord has for me, so I’m on this track of getting this degree here and working in in Catholic media, but maybe the Lord might have a different plan, because his dreams are far greater than any dream I can come up with.
Amen? May God bless each one of you.