In today’s gospel from Matthew we meet Joseph, the husband of Mary, who has an important part in Jesus’ birth and early years.
Matthew’s gospel calls Joseph as a just man, someone who listens to God rather than to himself, and does God’s will. He’s a carpenter, the gospels say, certainly not privileged – but he’s a “son of David” from the royal family who gives the world a Messiah.
During their betrothal, which in Jewish tradition was more than the modern engagement we know, Joseph finds that Mary is pregnant. A just man, he struggles to find a way to divorce her quietly when, in a dream, an angel of God tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
Here is the key part of the angel’s message: “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Like Mary, Joseph believes God’s message. Like Mary, he sees more than human eyes and a human mind see. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” He believed what we say in our creed: “(Jesus) was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” Jesus became one of us, God was with us.
Artists early on pictured Joseph with his head in his hands, listening in sleep to the angel’s message. In a dream later he heard the angel telling him to take the child and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod, the king. He was a man of great faith.
The medieval artist who painted the picture above has Mary pointing to Joseph as a witness to whose Child this is who’s’ born in a stable. They are the first to believe and they will care for Jesus with all the love and care they can give him.
Joseph has his hand on his head, as he does in so many portrayals of him. The angel spoke to him in dreams. Faith is like a dream where God speaks to us in another way.
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
The gospels for the days until Christmas are from St. Luke, recalling the angel’s visit to Mary and her relative Zechariah. Matthew’s gospel will be read again after the birth of the Child, when Joseph will warned of danger and takes the Child and Mary to Egypt and then to Nazareth..