In 1825, a nine-year-old Italian boy named John dreamed that he was in a field with a crowd of children when suddenly a gang of boys began cursing and misbehaving (as though they were wild animals). Immediately, he jumped into their mix and tried to stop them.
But while shouting and holding his fists high, something happened.
A man dressed in white whose face was filled with light appeared to him and told the child that he had just made him leader of the boys. And then he said: “You will be required to win these friends of yours not with blows but with gentleness and kindness.” Upon hearing this, the young child told the man: “But I’m just a boy. How can you order me to do something that looks impossible?” At which, the man answered, “What seems so impossible you must achieve by being obedient and acquiring knowledge.”
Eventually, he told him that his life’s vocation would be spent working with neglected children. Years later, Pope Pius IX encouraged St. John Bosco (the founder of the Salesian Order—whose mission is to minister to neglected children) to take his dreams seriously and to “write them down as a legacy for those he worked with and as an inspiration for those he ministered to.
During Advent, we have encountered powerful voices and questions in the Holy Scriptures …
- On the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus admonished us to “Stay Awake” and “Be Prepared,” for at an hour not known to us, the Son of Man will come.
- On the second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist appeared and told all who would hear: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
- On the third Sunday of Advent, we found that same John the Baptist behind bars—in prison—and counting his final days. But as he waited, he asked his disciples to approach Jesus and ask him whether He was the One that was to come and save His people.
In reflecting upon these Gospels, perhaps we might think about them in a slightly different way. Were the messages bold? Or, was there an element of doubt?
- On the first Sunday of Advent, we have Jesus—the Son of God—late in Matthew’s Gospel, tell his disciples to Stay Awake!!! Bold, right?
- On the second Sunday of Advent, we have John the Baptist—the Prophet given the role of pointing out Jesus. Again, bold.
- But on the third Sunday of Advent, we find a different reality. As noted, John the Baptist was behind bars. So, doubt.
But on the final and fourth Sunday of Advent, we are given a beautiful Gospel passage regarding how “the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” And it is there we are led into Joseph’s dream where we once more confront—doubt.
For Joseph, this dream must have been welcome since the reality he had been confronting surely had tied his stomach into “proverbial” knots. As a carpenter and a builder, Joseph was a practical person required to go about his day using a certain logic. But as we know, Joseph was faced with a circumstance that made no sense. Why, after all, should he join himself to Mary and raise a child that was not his own?
And we know the answer. Because God’s plan needed him. Because Mary needed him. Because Jesus needed him.
And so, like St. John Bosco, God sent an angel to minister to St. Joseph. To lay to rest his many doubts. To assure him that he should take Mary into his home and welcome Jesus at his birth. To encourage him to provide a stable home for the Holy Family and to ultimately become a role model for us all!
Given all of this, as we head toward the Christmas celebration, what message(s) should we take with us?
First, that as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “God’s salvation will be marked by the extraordinary event of a Virgin giving birth to a child—Emmanuel—-God with Us! Given God’s intimacy with us, do we: See Him in our families, friends, health, and livelihoods? Acknowledge that God desires each of us to grow in holiness not just for ourselves, but for the sake of others? Consider that He has placed us in our present circumstances so that we might make a difference for others?
Second, we should remember that before the beginning of time, God has dreamed of you and me. Think about that. We have been on God’s mind before He created the universe!
In the year 1980, there was a song recorded as a duet by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes that climbed the Billboard Charts and fell just short of reaching #1. Its title? “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer.” But regarding this mindset, the Lord has declared: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
Today, may we know that God dreams big dreams for us. During these final moments of Advent, may we be like Saints John Bosco and Joseph and be not afraid to act upon them.