The Measure of the Man: 2nd Sunday Advent

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Albert Einstein said, “The true measure of a man is the degree to which he has subjugated his ego.” Robert Savage said, “you can measure a man by the opposition it takes to discourage him.”

It’s the age of the internet, so you should probably assume that every quote you ever hear is fake. But these, real or not, all get at what I love and admire in the man God chose to raise Jesus.

St. Joseph is the focus of the Advent devotional books we gave out. I’m even doing the journaling, which is unusual for me, but it’s always good to try something a little outside your groove! The author admits that for much of his life, St. Joseph was merely a mild-looking statue holding a flower. If that’s true for many of us, then there’s a great surprise waiting when we start getting to know the actual man.

I think for most people that begins to happen when we think about the events leading up to Christmas — from Joseph’s perspective. Maybe you’ve imagined that, put yourself in his place: the news that his fiancee was pregnant, the decision about how to handle that, the dream and the calling from God. Maybe you’ve given some thought to Joseph, the actual human man in that situation, and how he felt and the choices he faced.

If you keep on along those lines, you can get to know Joseph much more than you might expect from just a few lines in the Bible. Have you ever really considered this fact, so obvious once it occurs to you: that Joseph felt about Mary the way a man feels about a woman when he proposes to her. And indeed he did give his life to her, and spend his life with her, but in a way so different than he’d thought when he asked for her hand. He loved her enough to marry her. But God asked him to love her - not less, because God never asks us to love someone less - but differently and, if anything, even more. Enough to want and support her to fulfill her own calling along a different path then he'd planned and hoped for. Enough to stay by her side in a very different life than the one his heart must surely have been so set on. One incredibly cool result is that somehow both those of us who are married and those of us who are single or celibate can find something so relatable in the way Joseph was called to love.

Thinking now of another moment in his life, the moment we’ll soon celebrate at the end of Advent… we grow up finding manger scenes picturesque and moving and quaint. Looking at those scenes makes us feel warm and fuzzy. Forget all that and put yourself in a father’s place, imagine what a father feels as his wife gives birth in a stable, as the child he’s been given is laid in a barn fixture. Must it not have crossed his mind, “this is what I’ve managed for my family. This is what they have with me as their provider.” We know Joseph was a man who heard and trusted God… so I believe he was able to surrender and trust God in that moment, too. But, still… how hard must it have been?

If only that had been the worst. Soon after, they were refugees, running for their lives. He was called to protect this little family, and how was he going to do that? What would they find when they got across the border, how would they manage? Here again, the details in the Gospel are so sparse, but they’re enough to see something of the man’s heart. He did his best and offered what he could offer. It must have seemed so shatteringly inadequate, how he must have wished his best looked better… but he did it anyway. And, again, I have to believe that he wasn’t broken and discouraged, didn’t sink into feeling sorry for himself, just kept doing the best he could and trusted God.

Luc Merson, Rest On the Flight Into Egypt.
Fanciful, okay, but I totally dig it.

If King and Einstein and Savage are right — and I think they are — if you can measure a man by the degree to which he has subjugated his ego, by where he stands in moments of challenge, by the opposition it takes to discourage him… now you begin to understand why God chose this man to be the husband of Mary and the adoptive father of Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:4-5 tells us to look to the Scriptures for endurance and encouragement, and there to find hope. I don’t know anybody who couldn’t use endurance and encouragement and hope. If you ever need a patron Saint of absolutely refusing to give up, a patron Saint of keeping faith when things aren’t looking good, of never giving in to discouragement or self-pity no matter how many setbacks come your way; if you ever need a patron Saint of just loving and serving and rejoicing in the people in your life right through all of it because this is your life and you’re in God’s hands… you won’t be able to choose any better than God Himself chose, and that’s the man. St. Joseph, pray for us!

I'm trying to stay motivated to become a Saint EVEN THOUGH
the title "terror of demons" is already taken.


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