I wonder if sometimes we give Joseph the short end of the stick. We don’t really know all that much about him, our information coming primarily from the birth narratives of Jesus. I know I tend to focus mostly on the Blessed Virgin Mary and baby Jesus during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. In fact, I can’t say I’ve ever really thought much about Joseph at all. Have you?
And yet, here we have a man who must have had a great deal of influence in the early years of Jesus’ life. While Joseph may not be a prominent figure through the Gospels, he is clearly an enduring presence for his son. We see this in the ways that Jesus uses imagery of a loving father to talk about God, most likely a projection of his experience of the fatherhood of Joseph. Presumably, it’s in his own home that he first learned the meaning of father.
What strikes me most about Joseph, however, is not the seemingly quiet, consistent influence he held in shaping and forming Jesus. But rather, the way he chooses to trust God from the very beginning. Joseph is initially inclined to stay within the expectations of his society. When he learns of Mary’s pregnancy, in which he had no part, his makes plans to dismiss her. Quietly, with compassion, but stern rejection nonetheless. Mary’s pregnancy tarnishes her reputation making her something of an outcast, someone to avoid engaging. Then, just as his mind is made up, an angel appears in his dream with instructions which Joseph chooses to follow.
Joseph listens to the angel and takes Mary, a woman he should reject, as his wife. He offers her protection from disgrace and scandal. He becomes a father to her child, Jesus. He takes up his own role in the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God.
Joseph causes me to wonder. How do I allow our society to dictate who I do and do not engage in relationship? Who do I reject on the basis of the expectations of my peers? How do I distance myself from or even prevent moments of birthing God into the world?
This week, Joseph is a reminder of what can happen when we open our lives up to the Divine. He is a reminder to look past the judgments society passes on an individual.
Joseph is a reminder that we can all participate in birthing Christ into the world.
Sarah Brock is becoming a postulant in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.
Image Credit: My own. Olive wood carving of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.