If I were a demon prowling about the world for the discouragement, confusion, and ruin of souls, how might I have tried to tempt God’s beloved ones in the year leading up to the first Christmas?
If I were a demon, I would say to St. Elizabeth, “Did people imagine that Zechariah had a vision while he was serving in the temple? He simply had a stroke and he will never speak again. You’re feeling sick every day and your abdomen is expanding. You clearly have a cancer. You will soon be dead. There is no hope.”
If I were a demon, I would say to St. Mary, “You think you saw an angel? That’s crazy! You’re imagining things. Who are you to be the mother of God’s son? Who do you think you are! Don’t even bother going to visit Elizabeth. You’ll feel foolish when you arrive and see that nothing has changed. None of your family, friends, or neighbors will believe you. Joseph will divorce you and you will be all alone.”
And if I were a demon, I would say to St. Joseph, “Do you really believe Mary conceived by God’s Spirit? She’s obviously lying. Even if it’s true, who are you to be a father to the Messiah? Either way, it is best for you to just get a divorce. Whatever you imagined when you married her, now you can see that you were so very wrong.”
Even with the coming of Christmas, my diabolical efforts would not cease. I would advise Bethlehem’s shepherds to steer safely-clear of the holy child and to keep to watching their flocks. I would urge the Magi to dismiss the starry signs as meaningless coincidences and not to risk a long journey. I would encourage Joseph to ignore the warning dream to take his family into Egypt and I would encourage Mary not to trust in her loving husband’s lead: “Surely, God would have told you this before telling Joseph.” Thankfully for us, none of them were prevented from doing God’s will through being tripped-up by such traps.
Some people think of temptation strictly as a prompting toward pleasurable, immoral action. But temptation can come in other forms. It can also pull us toward inaction and negative experiences like fear, doubt, sadness, and despair.
Some people assume that the saints do not know temptation like the rest of us. But did Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth live oblivious to the thoughts and unassailed by the feelings realistically described above? In truth, the saints come to understand temptation well as they discern and persevere through the trials of life.
Some people believe that God loves and watches over a few favored saints while having less concern for the rest of us. But this is also a temptation. Even if our life takes a shocking turn and we don’t know what to do, even if we have a stroke, or cancer, or our mind begins to fail, even if we seem betrayed or abandoned by everyone, each and all of us are his dearly beloved ones. (And we shouldn’t listen to anyone telling us otherwise, even if they speak to us in our own voice.)