Fourth Sunday of Advent A
Yesterday, in the midst of all the sleet and freezing rain, I walked through the park and across Main Street to the Post Office to mail out my Christmas cards. I expected to return empty handed, but instead discovered that we had seven or eight packages waiting for us there. So I stacked them up in my arms and made my way back over the ice to the rectory. (I must have been quite a sight!)
Among the boxes was a delivery I’d been awaiting: a Christmas gift I’d ordered for a friend, but which I’d begun to worry would not arrive in time. I eagerly tore that one open and pulled out the gift…only to discover that there were two of them! My first reaction, admittedly, was to get a bit mad: “They’d better not charge me for the second one!” But I quickly noticed that in the box there were also two packing slips. It seems the shipping department had made a mistake and boxed up someone else’s order together with mine…which meant that a woman out in Skokie, Illinois, was waiting—I presume—for delivery so that she could give a Christmas gift to a friend, just as I had been.
On an icy Saturday, just four days before Christmas, what could I do? Even if I called and found someone at the company, I’m not sure how they’d remedy the situation. After giving it just a bit more thought, I put the second gift back in the box, sealed it up with some shipping tape, slapped on the mailing label which had come inside, and had barely enough time to walk carefully through the park and across Main Street to the Post Office—five minutes before closing time. I explained the situation to the lady working at the window; she said she could get the package to Skokie by Tuesday.
On my second trip back to the rectory, I got to thinking: I had just been given the opportunity to pass along a gift which really wasn’t mine to give, and to do so for someone I hadn’t met, nor would I likely ever meet, who had been eagerly awaiting it. Unexpectedly, I’d become an essential link in a chain; if I’d chosen not to play my part, the whole process would have come to nothing.
In other words: in a small way, God had given me a chance to be righteous; God had given me a chance to be like St. Joseph.
You see, St. Joseph was simply a hardworking man, set to marry a beautiful girl, then settle down into small town life and live happily ever after. But God had other plans. Joseph was entrusted with a gift that really wasn’t his to give—a gift long awaited by many. Unexpectedly, he became an essential link in a chain; because he chose to play his part, the very course of history was changed. Joseph safely delivered God’s own Son to the world: the best gift we’d ever receive.
"St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things" (St. Josemaria Escriva).
How many unexpected opportunities are we given each day to do the same thing, even if on a much smaller scale? To be a link in a chain of grace: a channel of God’s love and compassion to a friend or stranger? The gift is not ours to give, but our role is crucial; we’re an essential link in the chain.
In these final days of Advent, let us keep our eyes and our hearts especially open to such opportunities in our very ordinary lives. Let us cooperate with God’s unexpected plans and so help others to experience the very mystery we celebrate at Christmas: that God is with us.