Joseph has gotten a raw deal, in my humble opinion. Almost everyone in the Christmas story gets more press than he does. Can you think of a single popular Christmas carol that mentions him? Even the tardy Wise Men get “We Three Kings.” While Jesus had his heavenly Father, it was his earthly father Joseph who taught him by flesh and blood example.
Like his Old Testament namesake, this Joseph was a dreamer too. After finding out that his fiancée was pregnant, and knowing that the child wasn’t his, he had a dream in which he was reassured to take Mary as his wife and to raise her son as his own. So he did.
Later, according to Matthew anyway, Joseph had another dream that spared his infant son from the murderous King Herod. He ended up leading Jesus and Mary all the way to Egypt and back to keep them safe. And throughout all this, we never hear him speak a single word. He lets his actions speak. Surely that’s something we can take from him – that while our words matter, of course, it’s our actions that reveal our heart.
What’s the legacy of this quiet man? Later tradition came to value (and idealize) him for all sorts of reasons – as someone who worked with his hands, as a model for all who have been forced from their homes to make new lives. But for me, he’s also an incredible example of faithfulness and trust. No matter what you think happened, Mary knew what happened (or didn’t happen) to her. Joseph had to take her version on faith. W.H. Auden portrays this moment in “The Temptation of St. Joseph,” part of my favorite Advent poem of all time, “For the Time Being:”
How then am I to know,
Father, that you are just?
Give me one reason.
All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.
No, you must believe;
Be silent, and sit still.
Or as the Narrator later puts it: “To choose what is difficult all one’s days as if it were easy, that is faith. Joseph, praise.” Joseph embodies the ordinary, but nonetheless heroic work of being a good husband and father. He honors his wife; he protects his family – and he does it all without “proof.” Like Mary, he’s not so much the model for his gender (we need lots of those) as he is a model follower of God, period.
How about you? What examples of faith do you draw comfort or strength from this Advent? Who in the Christmas story calls to you?