When Jesus came into St. Joseph’s life

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4th Sunday of Advent, Year A: Dec. 22, 2013
Isa 7:10-14; Ps 24; Rom 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-24

St. Joseph was a righteous man. He knew the Law that the Lord God had given to his People, and he wanted to follow it: to do what was right and just, toward God and toward other people; to do what was good; to do what was holy. And he was betrothed—formally contracted to marry—a very good and holy young woman named Mary.

St. Joseph may have been a young man, somewhere around 20 years old, energetic and just getting started in life. Or he may have been an older man, a widower, with some number of sons and daughters who would be known as the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

St. Joseph was a carpenter (Matt 13:55), skilled at working with wood. Indeed, the original Greek word in the New Testament is that he was a tektōn, and so possibly a craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone, iron, and brass, and was able to make a variety of things needed in the home or on the farm. He was well-prepared to work hard and to support a family.

St. Joseph was a son of David—in the line of the great King David who had reigned some 1000 years before, and whose descendants had sat on the throne of Israel and then Judah for 400 years. But then, since the Roman Empire would be watchful for the appearance of any son of David who might inspire an insurrection in the Holy Land, he was surely quite practiced at keeping a low profile, far from the centers of power.

In short, St. Joseph was an excellent, strong man: just the sort of man you would want as your friend, your husband, or your father. And he was ready to live a life walking the right path, honoring God and loving his neighbor, with Mary as his wife.

And then Jesus came into St. Joseph’s life—and nothing was ever the same after that!

During this Advent season, we have been preparing ourselves to be ready to welcome our Lord Jesus when he comes again; and we are also remembering what led up to his first coming, as we prepare to celebrate his birth on Christmas. For St. Joseph, Jesus’ coming first appeared in the form of a baby bump visible on Mary’s abdomen. Before they lived together, she was found to be with child—and Joseph certainly knew that he was not the father! Where did the baby come from? What did it mean?

We note that he decided to divorce her quietly. But why? What was he thinking? Through the centuries, various theologians have suggested three different theories:

  1. First, the suspicion theory: that he suspected her of having conceived the child with some man, and thus of having fallen into sexual sin. Perhaps she hadn’t told him about the angel’s visit. Or perhaps she had, and he didn’t believe her. Who could believe that a child could be conceived in a virgin, without sexual relations? And what great disappointment he then would have felt for this seemingly holy woman.
  2. Second, from a completely different direction, the reverence theory. In this theory, he did believe that the child within her was the Son of God. And as a good Jew, he knew what that meant: he remembered the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert; the way that Moses’ face shone after speaking with God; the way that someone could die from just touching the Ark of the Covenant; the cloud of the Presence that came down upon the Temple. He remembered all this. And if God himself was doing this amazing thing in Mary—well, then it was time for him to back out.
  3. Third, there is the perplexity theory, which is sort of a combination of the two. In this theory, he just didn’t know what to think. Either way, it seemed time for this betrothal to end. Time for Joseph to go back to his normal, calm life.

That was what he had decided; that was his intention. But that isn’t the Lord’s intention. He had something he wanted St. Joseph to do; something he wanted him to become. And so he sent an angel to appear to him in a dream, to reassure him, and to set him on the right path.

  • “It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her,” the angel said—not through another man.
  • And if you think that God doesn’t want you to be this holy woman’s husband—he does. “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”

Because the Lord had a job for him. He was a son of David after all.

  • He was descended from the courage that allowed young David to face up to the giant Goliath—and to defeat him.
  • He was descended from the endurance that enabled David to evade King Saul for years, until it was time for him to become king.
  • He was descended from a strong love for the Lord that had made David “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22)

And the Lord would use all that, and more, as Joseph would be a father to Jesus; would protect and guide Jesus and Mary, from Bethlehem to Egypt, and from Egypt to Nazareth; would help to shape him as the great Son of David of the prophecies. For St. Joseph was called to be “Redemptoris Custos“: the Guardian of the Redeemer. Like St. Paul, he was called; like St. Paul, he responded with the obedience of faith.

And so as we near the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas, ask yourself: Have you said yes to Jesus? To taking all that you are and becoming what he wants you to become? And doing what he wants you to do? As St. Joseph can attest, you have no idea what changes that might mean in how you think of yourself, or what your plans are, or what you spent your days doing. Because, once you say yes to Jesus, your life will never be boring. It will be amazing!

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