I think that the profound mystery that we celebrate during these holy seasons of Advent and Christmas can often escape us. The mystery of the Incarnation is the fact that God – the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing – “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” – this Person, at a particular moment in human history, not only entered that history, but He did is as a human being just like you and me. Jesus is the Son of God and the son of Mary. This is not just some cute slogan; it is the truth. As the son of Mary, then, Jesus had to be born and grow up just like any other human being throughout history. His experience was not all that different from yours or mine.
However, this also implies some pretty extraordinary things about Jesus’ family. Mary, the teenaged mother of the Lord, had the task of caring for and nurturing Jesus in her womb and in her arms when He was born. She had to teach the first words to the Word. Joseph, perhaps, had an even weirder role to play. Today, we hear of the confusion and surprise that comes upon Joseph when he learns of his virgin wife’s pregnancy. This is certainly not what the carpenter from Nazareth expected his life to be.
But Joseph, as we hear today, accepts that responsibility of raising Jesus as his own son; and this is very important for us. As a tradesman, Joseph would have travelled a lot to ply his carpentry trade, and as a son, Jesus would have gone around with him. The two would have spent a lot of time together, so young Jesus would have learned about the world and life from Joseph. Through his relationship with His foster father, Jesus would have developed His own idea of what a father should be. And how did Jesus present God to the world through His own preaching and teaching?
That would not have been possible without a strong and positive example of fatherhood here on earth. If Joseph was distant, judgmental, or harsh, Christ would not have shared images of the father of the Prodigal Son, or the good father who gives his child a fish instead of a snake or an egg instead of a stone. Joseph taught Jesus what a father is.
This is so important to us, and it is a detail in the life of Jesus that is easy to overlook. After all, Joseph never says anything. All we learn about him, we learn here today. We learn that he loved Mary, and even though his heart was broken, he did not want to expose her to shame – and even death. Instead, he was content to let her go to her family quietly, without attention or consequences. For Joseph, mercy and compassion were more important that the law and its punishments.
Jesus learned that.
After the message from the angel, Joseph opened himself up in trust to the will of the Lord, even when it was confusing and new. He allowed God’s plan to unfold for him and followed God’s will for himself and his wife and child. That trust was essential to allowing Jesus to grow and thrive as a child.
Jesus learned that.
While we have no direct quotes from Joseph, the silent witness of Advent and Christmas, I know that we can say for certain one word that he uttered. When the time came, it was the father, Joseph, who would have declared to the priest and to the world what this child’s name would be. Joseph would have been the one to say, “Jesus,” because he will save his people from their sins. Joseph knew that, and he proclaimed it.
In imitation of his love and faith, may we also proclaim Jesus, the newborn King, who saves us from our sins.