Regardless of our response to Him, God never abandons us; never. God’s love is His own presence. Presence is personal and therefore unceasing. Deeds begin and end but personhood is unceasing. God’s love is a guarding love, a providing love, an exhorting/disciplining love — a saving love. First, in His person and then in His deeds. This is how He is actively present though in our times of rebellion we sense His saving presence as everything that is the opposite of what that term connotes. The name of God is Emmanuel — God WITH us, personally with us, as well as God acting on our behalf.
Salvation is not narrow. Salvation is wide and deep and broad. Salvation is the recovery of personhood. And, therefore presence. And, therefore union. And therefore union of authentic presence. Mutual unceasing self-giving presence in personhood. Because God is present to us, we have the opportunity to be present to Him. We have an icon of this mutuality of personhood/presence in the life of the Holy Family of Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth.
The words of Robert Frost’s poem come to mind, “…and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Mary and Joseph took the road less travelled in this world to point the way for us. They did not do so as people unlike us, with nothing in common. No, they are JUST LIKE me and you. And so, they can point the way with understanding and we can intuitively trust them even though the way they point runs against the grain of the way of this world. They were personally present to Jesus. They guarded Jesus. Indeed, they saved the life of Jesus!
But, who is guarding whom?! Who is saving whom?! Indeed…
St. Gregory of Nazianzen said it, “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.”
Rejoice, I bring you tidings of a great joy which is for ALL the people. God is WITH us. Indeed, as we proclaim in the Divine Liturgy, “Christ is in our midst. He is and ever shall be!”
“Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.” (Bidden or unbidden God is present.)
Matthew 2:13-23, especially vs.13: “Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’”
When God planted in Paradise, He set “the tree of life” (Gn 2:9) in the middle of the garden. After Adam’s disobedience, God imposed the divine consequences of sin: “to earth you shall return” (vs. 3:20). To prevent Adam from evading this judgment, “the Lord God sent him forth out of the garden. . . . And [He] stationed . . . the fiery sword which turns every which way to guard the way to the tree of life” (vs. 3:24-25).
Thus mankind enters into history and this existence full of sickness, death, and the slaughter of innocents. However, God the Life-giving Trinity never abandons us. According to Metropolitan John of Pergamos, “The Father and the Spirit are involved in history, but only the Son becomes history. . . . [And] if the Son dies on the cross, thus succumbing to the bondage of historical existence, it is the Spirit that raises Him from the dead. The Spirit is the ‘beyond’history, and when He acts in history He does so in order to bring into history the last days, the eschaton” (Being as Communion, p. 130).
The Spirit introduces the age to come into this present existence, beginning at the moment our Lord assumes history: “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you’” (Lk 1:35). The Holy Spirit then continues to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus, as this early passage from St. Matthew shows.
Through an angel, He directs Joseph to flee to safety with Jesus and His mother (Mt 2:13). Following the death of Herod the Great, the same Spirit directs Joseph as to when it is safe to return (vss. 19-20).
We must be careful not lose sight of the Holy Spirit in this passage, for it is He who actually gives the command to flee, even though the message is delivered by an angel. According to St. Maximos the Confessor, “The Holy Spirit is not absent from any created being, especially not from one which in any way participates in intelligence” (Philokalia vol. 2, p. 180).
The holy angels, of course, are known as the intelligent (noetic) powers. The Spirit works through those beings who are wholly pure, including our guardian angels and the other bodiless powers (Mt 2:13, 19). We should respect them and pray for their help. Through the angels, the Spirit actively guards everyone who is united to Christ, protecting us against the evil one and his servants.
Later, we see how the Holy Spirit makes Joseph rightly afraid of Archelaus, the murderous son of Herod the Great (vs. 22). The Spirit communicates with those mortals who have attained a measure of personal purity through prayer, men and women who are receptive to His voice. In this instance, He works through the dream life of the righteous Joseph.
Understanding the Spirit’s work is crucial if we are to grow in holiness (Jn 3:6-8). This much is certain: the Spirit of God never leaves Joseph, nor will He abandon the members of Christ who are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Let us heed His promptings as we pray for clarification and guidance. Above all, we understand that the Holy Spirit never ceases to work among the faithful to bring about our salvation, as revealed to us through the prophets (Mt 2:23; Eph 3:4-5). Our decisions and actions, especially those that aim to please God, will be woven into His plan of salvation for us and for all of mankind. Let us pray for wisdom!
“Assist me, I pray Thee, and direct me with divine wisdom to do Thy will faithfully.”