Christmas is fast approaching, but even for good Catholics, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the real reason we celebrate. It also doesn’t help with the secular world’s ever-more insistent message of ‘buy this, buy that; you haven’t lived until you own one of these; she’ll REALLY love you if you get her this; etc.’
While there certainly isn’t anything wrong with giving nice gifts to each other, we must never forget what happened 2,000 years ago. We mustn’t forget that pivotal moment when God humbled Himself and came into our world as a weak, innocent baby.
The Word Made Flesh
It truly was a miracle that the immortal Creator of heaven, earth, and mankind blessed Mary and invited her to give birth to Jesus. At last, here was The Word made flesh. The most powerful Being in the universe was wrapped in a simple blanket and sleeping in a feeding trough for animals.
Sit and think about that for a moment. And at the same time, remember everything that led up to the Nativity. As we are told in Mathew 1:18-21, 24:
18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. 21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
A Righteous Man
While we know a lot about Jesus and Mary, once Jesus is born Joseph gets pushed into the background. Throughout the entire New Testament, Joseph doesn’t utter a single word. We only hear of him again when Jesus is referred to as “the carpenter’s son.”
It’s commonly known that Joseph made a living as a carpenter and that he was a righteous man. Many theologians and artists believe he might have been an older man, possibly a widower. And that’s really all we know.
Since there is so much we don’t know about Joseph, I won’t run the risk of speculating. But from what we do know about him we can draw some conclusions about the moral character of Joseph.
A Humble Man
When the angel addressed Joseph, he called him “son of David,” meaning that he was of the same royal lineage as King David. And like David, Joseph started in a place of humility. David was a shepherd boy and Joseph a poor carpenter. Both were steadfast in their work, and looked to do the will of God in everything they did. When so prompted, both were willing to go where God led them without hesitation. Neither allowed the opinions or criticisms of others to deter them from serving God.
However, Joseph was still faced with the reality that Mary was carrying a child that was not his own. It must have been a very difficult situation to be in – his betrothed was pregnant, and he was not the father. He probably felt hurt, betrayed, enraged, and possibly even a bit frightened. His thoughts and feelings were likely clashing.
Bear in mind, too, that Joseph wasn’t born free of original sin like Mary. He was a no different than any other man, and he would’ve been suffering through a wide range of emotions. Imagine the turmoil he must have been going through.
Doing God’s Will
Based solely on his own limited understanding of the situation, Joseph chose to quietly divorce Mary. In ancient Israel and under the Law of Moses, he would have been within his rights to do so. From a moral standpoint, to Joseph, this probably appeared to be the best solution to the dilemma. But, as it so often happens, God’s plan turns out to be better than ours.
Once Joseph was visited by the angel Gabriel and was made aware of God’s will, Joseph did not hesitate to take Mary into his home. Clearly, at every moment in his life, Joseph tried to do the will of God. But a person, whether man or woman, doesn’t become a righteous person like Joseph was unless they’ve spent time in prayer.
Just as Joseph realized, we have to remember that prayer isn’t a one-sided thing. We can ask and implore for assistance from above, but we must also listen and wait for an answer. Still, though, it’s not enough to just listen. We must also follow through once we’ve gotten our answer. And here is perhaps what Joseph was best at doing.
God’s Plan Unfolds
After Gabriel’s visit, without any further questions, Joseph immediately took Mary into his house as his wife. From that point forward they might have even been viewed with scorn and ridicule from their neighbors and friends. But that no longer mattered to them, because both Mary and Joseph knew they were serving a greater purpose.
And then came the journey to Bethlehem. As we hear in Luke 2:1-4:
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
But Joseph was not yet done doing God’s will. After the birth of our Lord, we’re told in Mathew 2:13-14 –
13 When they [the magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” 14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.
When Joseph was warned in the dream to flee Bethlehem, Joseph didn’t think “Well, it can wait until morning when I’m fully rested.” No, he did what he was told to do and immediately loaded up everything they had, gathered up his wife and newborn Son, and headed to Egypt.
A Model for All Men
Joseph loved God, his wife and his adopted Son so much that he was willing to sacrifice everything in order to serve them. This is why he’s the model of a righteous man. We should be thankful that God picked such a man to be a husband for Mary and a father for Jesus.