JOSEPH, TO WHOM GOD GAVE HIS WILL
The liturgical calendar is bejeweled with feasts of beloved St. Joseph, but Autumn not so much. Yes, we ought fete the legal father of Jesus frequently, but because less attention is given the earthly father of the Almighty in these months, we arrive at Advent and are often in a rush to prepare for Christmas without sufficient time given to the man who God the Father entrusted with His Son.
Joseph was a chaste man, and it is reasonable to conclude he made the decision in union with Mary that they both remain virgins for all their married life. This was utterly self-abnegating of him because this was the era when his fellow Jews were of the mind that bearing as many babes as possible would hasten the arrival of the Messiah. More male babies meant the Messiah would surely be among them. It seems Joseph discounted the mere possibility that he could be the sire of the Savior – even though he was of the royal line of David - and King David had been promised the Chosen One would be of his flesh and blood. By staying a virgin, Joseph was not planning to be a parent of any child and he certainly never imagined the Christ would be cradled in his arms. The Lord God had led Joseph to remain pure, yet Joseph’s humility meant he could not even conceive of being the daddy of the Divine.
This was even more evident when Joseph discovered that Mary is with Child. He was galled by doubt, and begged to know how the woman who he had been convinced was a virgin was suddenly growing a Babe inside her. He must have felt horribly betrayed. His mind was devastated by the mere question – could she have been with another man? Joseph planned to separate from her because he knew the Child was not his biological issue and he disqualified himself totally from the mere idea that his wife was carrying the Messiah. Joseph knew well the prophecy that a virgin would bear the Savior as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, yet Joseph was too modest to even entertain for a second that he was the Baby’s legal father.
His reaction to Mary’s widening womb spoke volumes to his meekness. Joseph was not so proud as to shame her for the possibility she preferred another over him, and he did not seek retribution. Joseph has often described almost as though he was shy and tongue-tied, which has the faint implication he was cowardly. But when he saw beyond doubt that Mary was in the family way, he reacted tacitly because he did not want to cause her the slightest embarrassment.
In a dream he learned Mary’s Baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, which meant he went from a state of mistrust to awe and he adored the Child Whose Presence had caused him such doubt. Joseph had gone through his dark night of the soul to the brightness of Christ’s light shining right in front of him. He was also humbled to his marrow, he had gone from putting himself out of the running completely to knowing he was the one to whom God was giving the awesome responsibility of protecting the Life of His Son.
Then Joseph journeyed with Mary to Bethlehem to put their names on a census and with newborn Baby Jesus in hand, Joseph wrote the Name of God on a parchment. Joseph had the heroism and fearlessness to rise to be the one to make the prophecy come true – it had been foretold that the Baby would be born in Bethlehem – but Joseph was not born there and this was perhaps a reason he had excluded himself as the man who could be earthly father of the Savior.
Back home in Nazareth, they had not established their household that long when Joseph was told by an angel in a dream to take the Mother and Child to Egypt. They fled from Herod, for fear his soldiers’ swords would slice the Savior. Joseph had no work there and no one knew they were coming. Only someone very strong could have made such a bold move, and only one who relied on Divine Providence to such a courageous degree.
A dozen years passed, and Jesus was on the cusp of adulthood. On their way back from their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary trusted He was with them or with one of their travelling companions, and they were shocked when they found out He was not. Both Mary and Joseph were in desolation, not knowing when their Savior would come in their midst again. They were forced to travel back to the temple, only to find their Boy holding forth before the elders and amazing them with His wisdom. After they asked for an explanation, they were greeted with a rhetorical reproach as to why they didn’t know He was to be found in His Father’s House? This was a most humbling moment for Joseph, in public Jesus put him in his place as being His earthly father. Jesus, however, was having no pubescent hissy fit. Rather, he was asserting Himself before Joseph and Mary as being the only Begotten Son of the Father.
But when He left the temple with His father and mother, He was obedient to Joseph. Just like before Jesus’s birth, Joseph had been humbled yet again, and only after he assumed new humility, did Joseph take charge of the adult Jesus. Yes, Joseph had authority over God Himself and was in his rights to correct Him for forsaking him for 3 days, but he may not have done so, because in his ever deepening docility to God’s will, he may have seen that this trial of the 3 days when Jesus was “lost” was part of God’s plan to humble him for the next stage of raising Jesus in the second third of His Life. This was the most awesome role ever given a human man, that God put Himself under Joseph’s rule. No man ever had before or since the right to exercise God’s will on His behalf. If Jesus can deign to be under Joseph’s reign, so can we.
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