Once upon a time, it is one week before Christmas. Sister Ida asks her class to write their Christmas letter to baby Jesus. This excites little Suzie. She plans to ask baby Jesus all sorts of questions. But the one main question on her mind is getting a sign from God that everyone goes to heaven when they die. Dear Baby Jesus, can you show me a sign that everyone who dies goes to heaven? I was wondering…instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have? And is it true my father won’t get in heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house? Love, Suzie
Why is it so difficult to read signs from God?
For example, the king of Judah is in trouble. Ahaz mismanages his kingdom. Kingdoms surrounding Judah (including the northern kingdom of Israel) amass armies against Jerusalem. Judah’s people fear for their lives and begin to rumble against the king who has no heir. So, the prophet commands the king to seek a sign from God that God still holds Judah in divine favor. And the sign that God sends to King Ahaz is that the young woman whom he marries will bear him a son.
In 1st century Palestine, St. Joseph is in trouble. His betrothed wife, Mary, tells him that she is pregnant. Custom dictates that he divorce her. The village will then shun her. She will live in disgrace for the rest of her life. Joseph seeks a sign and in his dream an angel tells him not to be afraid. Then God tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife because the child in her womb is the first born of God destined to save all of us.
In the words of some early church writers, Joseph is a person who muses inwardly! To muse is to think, ponder, deliberate, consider, to cogitate.
But how can we muse inwardly ourselves when the problem is our attitude? The difference between Ahaz and Joseph is attitude. Throughout all his reign as king, Ahaz continually tests the Lord. Breaking that commandment, and breaking this commandment, Ahaz follows his own will. When the prophet tells him to seek a sign from God his attitude is false humility and false piety. On the other hand, Joseph is a righteous man. He is unwilling to expose Mary to shame and disgrace and utter poverty. He seeks a sign also about what to do and when he wakes up he obeys the dream, the angel.
To read signs from God we must imitate St. Joseph. He is that hero who muses inwardly. St. Matthew tells us that he is a just man, a righteous man. To be righteous is to be virtuous. And to be virtuous is to do one’s best! God sends us signs in many ways. We want thunder and lightning. We want heavenly visions and voices. And God might just use all of the above to send us a sign. However, it is my experience that God sends us signs in dreams, in letters, in homilies, in a word, in other people, and, yes, in silence.
The most important sign from God is the Eucharist. At this eternal banquet, we muse inwardly over God’s love for us. Here we become the apostles of faith. As we imitate the virtue of St. Joseph, you and I might be someone’s sign today.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
4th Sunday in Adventide