St. Joseph remains in the background in Christmas pageants. He’s not mentioned in popular carols — and never utters a word in Scripture.
Still, without him, the Nativity story would be entirely different.
Most kids can recite the angel’s words to Mary — “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” — but only adults understand why the young girl was troubled, when the angel said she’d conceive a child.
Yes, Mary was a virgin, but she clearly knew the facts of life — which is why she demurred, until the angel explained this would be an extraordinary conception: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
Even though this was long ago, she was a real person living in the ordinary world — and must have dreaded revealing the news of her pregnancy to Joseph, her fiance.
Joseph was a “righteous” man, Scripture assures us, so he surely accepted the Jewish rules about proper sexual behavior — which makes me wonder about his reaction to Mary’s story.
It’s possible he stormed around a bit and begged her for the truth. Still, even though he didn’t believe her, he loved her — so rather than embarrass her publicly, he decided to quietly call it quits.
But then a dream upended his plans — and kept the Nativity story from ending tragically.
It seems that, as he slept, an angel’s words dissolved his reservations about Mary’s pregnancy: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph took the dream to heart, as a message from God, and upon awakening, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
Here’s where the “what ifs?” come in. What if he hadn’t married Mary? What if he’d dismissed the dream as nonsense?
She might have been stoned to death for her apparent indiscretion — with the baby in her womb.
Thanks to Joseph’s faith, though, that chilling scenario never took place. And the next time we hear about the couple, they’re hunkered down in a stable — with bleating sheep, mooing cows and braying donkeys — awaiting Jesus’ birth.
Scripture is silent on this score, but I picture Joseph helping his wife with the birth — and being first to hold their wondrous child.
About a year later, Joseph had another dream, and his faith again saved the day.
This time, the angel had a warning: “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt … for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”
Surely it was difficult getting the family safely to Egypt, which was about 40 miles away — a tremendous distance back then.
But Joseph’s perseverance — and willingness to make sacrifices — saved the Christ child from Herod’s bloody plot.
As Christmas draws nearer, I like standing before a statue of St. Joseph, who’s holding the hand of his little boy. What a role model he was for this child!
He was a man of deep faith and compassion, who faithfully protected his family.
True, he isn’t praised in Christmas carols — and never says a word in Scripture. Still, in his own quiet way, he changed the world forever.
Lorraine Murray’s latest cozy, church mystery is “Death Dons a Mask,” available online. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.