Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections for Advent, The Nativity and Epiphany

By: Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis

November 16

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Faith

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

—Matthew 1:19-21

Joseph played an important role in the story as well. He was a rather ordinary man who had extraordinary faith. In Orthodox Tradition, we hold that Joseph was an elderly man, who had been widowed. He had children from a previous marriage, who are later referred to as Jesus's brothers and sisters who in reality were half-brothers and half-sisters (see Matt. 13:55-56).Joseph worked as a carpenter—a rather ordinary life.

Joseph was a just man and the Gospel tells us that he did not want to put Mary to shame, so he resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold and angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to make Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1: 20-22)

We are told that "when Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife but knew her not until she had born a son; and he called his name Jesus" (Matt. 1:24-25).

Joseph had extraordinary faith. Imagine the conversation when Mary told him that she was pregnant. Here she had been raised in the temple. They were engaged, but not married. And now his betrothed was pregnant and the baby was not his. What faith he must have had in Mary, to believe that she was pregnant in a way no human being could become pregnant, by the Holy Spirit. And what faith he must have had in God to assume the role of caretaker for an unmarried woman who risked being scorned by the society of the day. He had the same risk as well. He had a job, he had friends, he had a reputation, and all those things he was willing to put on the line because of his faith.

There were two lessons from the life of Joseph. First, one can be a rather ordinary person and still make an extraordinary spiritual contribution. Joseph was not a priest, was not really learned (he had a trade, not a career), was not a member of the temple elite. He wasn't looking to play a big role when God tapped him on the shoulder. Yet, he, like Mary, embraced his role. You don't have to have a lot of money, or fame or a great career in order to answer God's call for your life. And secondly, Joseph was willing to risk his comfort, his job, his friends and so much more in order to care for Mary and her (not his) unborn child. Are we willing to do the same? Joseph's "Yes" to God was for a different thing than Mary. But it was really no less important. Because the story could not be complete without both of them.

An extraordinary person with little faith is rather ordinary in the eyes of God. An ordinary person with extraordinary faith, is extraordinary in the eyes of God. What kind of faith do you have? What kind of faith do you want to have? If you were standing in the presence of God right now, how would HE describe your faith?

Tell us, o Joseph, how is it that you bring to Bethlehem

great with Child the Maiden whom from the sanctuary

you received? I, says he, have searched the Prophets and

received a revelation from an Angel; and convinced am

I that Mary shall give birth to God in ways surpassing

all interpretation. And to worship Him shall Magi from

the east come with precious gifts to pay homage unto

Him. O Lord who for our sake have taken flesh, glory

to You. (From the Royal Hours of the Nativity. Trans. Fr.

Seraphim Dedes)

Be extraordinary in your faith today!

November 15

I am the Handmaiden of the Lord

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.

—Matthew 1:18

God's grand plan for our salvation involved incarnating the Word of God into the flesh, for God to become like one of us. And this would happen in a way that was both miraculous and understandable. The understandable part was that He would come into the world as a new born baby. The miraculous part was that the conception would be by the Holy Spirit, an immaculate conception. A woman would bear Gods Son in her womb and give birth to Him. So, God would bring His Son into the world through one of us.

The Virgin Mary was the woman that God selected for this task. She was born in a miraculous way to elderly parents named Joachim and Anna. When she was three years old, she was taken to the temple by her parents and given to the service of the Lord. After being raised in the temple for ten years, she found herself living in a small town called Nazareth, where she was betrothed (engaged) to a man named Joseph.

Historically, we believe that Mary was about fourteen when she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He greeted her with the words:

"Hail, O Favored one, the Lord is with you! Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus . . . The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will over shadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." (Luke 1:28-35)

Can you imagine being in Mary's shoes? Visited by an angel? Told you were going to do something that no one would believe?

Would you run? Would you doubt? Would you answer with confidence?

Mary answered "Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38)."We don't know if Mary answered with fear or with confidence. What we know is that she answered the call of God. The other thing we know is God's plan for salvation couldn't have come about if she hadn't answered "Yes!"

The lessons we learn from Mary are two: First, God calls everyone to something in their life. There is no one who is uncalled. Some arc called to a certain vocation, or to be parents, some arc called to serve in the military, or to uproot their lives and move somewhere. Have you heard God's call for your life? Have you answered? How have you answered?

The second lesson we learn is that just as Mary was part of God's plan for our salvation, we, too, are part of God's plan for our own salvation. God has provided the path to salvation. He has even provided the means to go down the path—the church, the scriptures, the clergy, etc. But we have to walk down the path ourselves. We work in concert with God in order to attain salvation.

Mary is the model of what we are supposed to be! Because she said yes to the call of God. May we follow her example! Mary is called Theotokos, meaning, "God-bearer." We are called to be the same!

O Virgin Theotokos who gave birth to the Savior, you reversed the curse to which Eve once was subject. For you have become the Mother of the Father's good pleasure, and you hold in your embraces God the Logos incarnate. The mystery admits to inquiry; we all glorify it by faith alone, and with you we cry aloud and say "O Lord incomprehensible, glory to You." (From the Praises, in the Orthros of the Nativity. Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes.)

May we strive to be servants today!