Once there was an eight-year-old girl whose mother gave her a wonderful and exciting gift for her birthday: she took her to see the circus. The girl was fascinated and delighted by everything she saw; she greatly enjoyed the sounds and atmosphere of the big top, the clowns, and the animal acts with trained dogs and tigers and elephants. For her, however, the most amazing sight of all was the performance by the trapeze artists; she couldn’t take her eyes off them as they swung back and forth, soaring high above her head and catching each other at the last moment. In amazement the girl asked, “Aren’t they scared, Mother? Aren’t they scared?” Before the mother had a chance to respond, a man sitting in the row in front of them turned to the girl and said, “Honey, they aren’t scared. They trust each other.” After a moment of silence, someone else sitting nearby was heard to say, “That man should know; he used to perform on the high wire himself” (Link, Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year A, Series II, p. 9). Trust is absolutely essential for circus performers soaring high in the sky—and it’s also essential for each one of us when we’re venturing up higher in a spiritual sense. God reserves His greatest blessings for, and assigns the most important tasks to, those who trust Him the most. This was true for Mary and Joseph, and to a lesser but still important degree, it’s also meant to be true for us.
Because we celebrate Christmas every year, it’s easy for us to forget or overlook what a truly amazing story it is. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God, entrusted Himself to the human race; He humbled Himself to be born of a poor woman and her husband. Because of human free will and the possibility that everyone might reject Him, Jesus was taking a gamble when He came to earth—especially since He came not as a powerful king, but as a defenseless baby. For their part, Mary and Joseph were also called upon to make a great act of trust. Though still a teenager, Mary had to trust the angel’s words that she would become the mother of the Messiah while remaining a virgin. This was miraculous and unprecedented—but Mary believed, and so it happened. Our Lady also had to trust that somehow her betrothed husband Joseph would come to know that she had not been unfaithful to him, and that he would accept her instead of divorcing her. Indeed, it was her husband’s intention to divorce her quietly, but when the angel of the Lord revealed to him in a dream the amazing truth of God’s plan, Joseph immediately set aside his fears and trusted what he had been told. Because Mary and Joseph were willing to make a radical act of trust, God was able to use them and exalt them in a wonderful way. Their faith is contrasted with the lack of faith shown by King Ahaz 700 years earlier; he rejected the sign God freely offered him, and so he missed out on a special blessing the Lord had intended for him. We must trust in the Lord if we are to receive all that He has in store for us. St. Paul demonstrated this trust by firmly believing that he was indeed called to be an apostle, in spite of his former persecution of the Church; in fact, he trusted in the Lord so much that he was willing to call himself a slave of Jesus Christ. This allowed the Lord to do great things through him— and Jesus wants to write a new chapter of this wonderful story in each of our lives.
Once there was a man driving down a lonely country road who saw a poor fellow slowly walking along, carrying a large and heavy sack over his shoulder. The driver pulled over and offered him a lift, and the man happily got inside—but he continued holding the uncomfortable sack. When the driver said “Why don’t you put down your package?,” the passenger answered, “Well, sir, I’m so grateful that you’re carrying me that I don’t think it’s fair to ask you and your car to carry my sack as well!” (Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book, p. 400). That response, of course, makes no sense—and it’s equally foolish for us to decide to follow Jesus but to refuse to give Him our absolute trust. God loves us, and it’s no burden to Him also to carry all our worries and doubts and fears once we entrust ourselves into His hands. We could probably come up with a long list of problems very easily, and we might express them to Jesus like this: “Lord, I’m worried that I won’t know the right thing to do; I’m afraid I’m forgetting something; I don’t know if I’ll be ready in time for Christmas and be able to celebrate it properly; if a problem comes up that’s too big for me to handle, I don’t know what I’ll do; I keep committing the same sins over and over again and wish I could stop, but so far I haven’t been able to; I’m worried that other people may not like or respect me; I’m afraid that, whatever it is You’re calling me to do, I won’t be able to figure it out or do it properly.” To each of these lines in our litany of worries, Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter, because I’m with you and I love you; put your sack down and let Me carry it, so that you’re free to answer My call and to receive the blessings I’ve reserved for you.”
Many people feel, at different times in life, that they’re not only in a circus, but actually up there on the high wire or trapeze without a safety net—but as Christians, we need never have this fear. Mary and Joseph were asked to believe and perform something amazing and unimaginable, and something far beyond anything we’ll ever experience—and because they were willing to trust in God’s grace, they succeeded. This is an important part of the story of Christmas, and it’s a part that we’re called to imitate in our own lives. Our faith in God allows Him to work wonders; if we trust in Him, He will bless us, and work through us, in a way that brings us everlasting joy and peace.