>On the last Sunday of Advent, December 23rd, the Gospel told the story of Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ father.
Joseph is one of those shadowy persons in the New Testament, like Phoebe, our sister the deacon – real, but not much else is known about them. Joseph was descended from King David and traditionally is known as a tradesman, a carpenter, from Nazareth. We know he marries Mary, the daughter of Joachim and Anna, and is the human father of their first son, Jesus.
Paintings of the Holy Family have tended to show Joseph as a circumspect, elder man, balding and gray, looking a bit bewildered. Wouldn’t you have the look of a deer in the head beams if you found out your fiancee was with child by the Holy Spirit? If the son you were going to raise was the savior of humanity?
I am not a proponent of the Virgin Birth theology — it’s my opinion that the first child born to every woman is a virgin birth — but I do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s plan for us. Mary of Nazareth must have been a pretty amazing young woman to have been singled out by God. I heard a joke in a Rowan Atkinson film, “Keeping Mum” that goes something like God fell in love with a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago and everyone is still talking about it. Well, Atkinson’s character says, it’s something worth talking about. And so it is.
What about Joseph? How special is this guy???? Being a parent is daunting, but consider what Joseph the carpenter had to contend with. He had to decide whether or not to break off his engagement to Mary and was ready to quietly put an end to their relationship when the Holy Spirit intervenes and tells him it’s going to be okay, to take Mary to wife and raise the child, name him Jesus. He is also warned about King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and escapes with Mary and the baby into Egypt. The family returns to Galilee after Herod’s death and settles down, perhaps as a normal family. Matthew 12:46-47 mentions that Jesus’ mother and brothers wait while he is teaching a crowd of his followers, and perhaps stands in the back wanting to speak with him, so it is not impossible to believe that Mary and Joseph had other children – indeed, one of the brothers, James, was the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus’ execution and resurrection.
It’s not hard for me to personally believe a young and virile husband like Joseph, rather than the elderly sage leaning on his staff watching his wife and infant son from a safe distance; it’s easier to understand and believe that the man was like almost all fathers and husbands — caring for his wife and children, teaching his sons and perhaps daughters, or watching with patience and fear as all parents do, when the children grow up and move on to make their ways in the world, or watching a sleeping child and wondering what the baby will look like in twenty years, what the baby will become.
Just as Mary was singled out among all women to bear a son and raise him up to lose him to the world and ultimately a criminal’s shameful death, so too was Joseph chosen among all men to be the role model of father and teacher, gentle lover, the provider and protector; I wonder if Joseph had premonitions of his eldest son’s future and if he fretted over what would happen to Jesus. If he was a father, I would say yes, and yes again to that question.
Mary accepted the role delegated to her by God, and so did Joseph. Mary has been revered over the ages, made an equal to her son by some. Joseph of Nazareth deserves the same love and reverence.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!