Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
We know very little about Joseph. He is the foster father of Jesus and betrothed to Mary. He is from the line of David. He seems to be an upright man, considering divorcing Mary so as not to shame her. He is often pictured as being an older man. He had his own annunciation when an angel came to him in a dream and told him to see his marriage through. Like the Joseph in the Old Testament, he paid attention to his dreams. Once Jesus was born, Joseph protected his family by fleeing to Egypt with them. What can we learn from this man connected to God breaking into our history?
From Wm. Barclay: Daily Study Bible Series on Matthew, p. 22:
A betrothal was a binding agreement, lasting 1 year. The couple would be known as man and wife, but the marriage was not consummated until the end of the year. It could only be terminated in divorce. Going against this agreement could have meant death for Mary.
Joseph was told Mary was with child through the action of the Holy Spirit. We have a Christian view of what Holy Spirit is, but Joseph would have had a Jewish interpretation. What is that?
- Holy Spirit is who brought God’s truth to humanity, telling the prophets what to say and telling people what God wants of them.
- Holy Spirit allowed people to recognize that truth when they saw it.
- Holy Spirit is connected with the work of creation (moving across the waters).
- Holy Spirit is connected with re-creation (Ezekiel’s dry bones).
We know Joseph was a carpenter (Mk 6:3, Mt 13:55), and sons often took on the same role as their parents. The name ‘carpenter’ doesn’t exist in Hebrew, so he would have been known more as a ‘cutter’ or ‘worker of wood’. A rural carpenter would have been indispensable to the town where he lived. In addition to building homes, they would have made cabinets, carved, and made wheels, yokes and plows. Roofs were flat, so making a house would have involved laying down beams and covering them with reeds. If there was an upstairs, the staircase would be outside. For all of these projects, the carpenter would have had many tools and be flexible enough to work on whatever came into his workshop that day (Daniel-Rops, Henri, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, p. 241-3).
Joseph is often depicted as an old man, but we actually don’t know how old he is. The marriage custom at the time was that a young woman, essentially at the age of puberty, would be given to a man, usually several years her senior (Rolheiser, R., “Joseph and Christmas”. If Mary was 13 years old, Joseph may have been only 16-18 years old. What difficult decisions he had to make at such a young age!
What can we learn from Joseph? He teaches us how a person can be a pious believer, deeply faithful to everything within his religious tradition, and yet at the same time be open to a mystery beyond both his human and religious understanding (Rolheiser). Isn’t this what we are all challenged with at Christmas?
Joseph seems to live a life of quiet service to God, a life almost completely unknown to us. Today many Christians lead lives of hidden charity – a kind deed here, a few hours of service there. All of these quiet acts mark the Christian lifestyle. Even if no one else sees those deeds, God does (Catholic Update Dec. ’09: “The Holy Family”). Joseph teaches us humility.
Tradition holds that Joseph most likely died before Jesus started his ministry. Jesus must have wished for his counsel during those years, since he learned much about his faith from Joseph. Mary must have wanted his support at the Crucifixion (Cath. Update). Jesus and Mary knew grief through Joseph.
Take some time with Joseph this Advent!
Reading I: Isaiah 62:1-5
Your God rejoices in you! You are God’s Delight, God’s Espoused! How does this speak to you? When were you so full of joy you could not be quiet?
The conferral of a new name designated God’s almighty power over creation. When one was given a new name, that person was made a new creation, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 88). Isn’t it endearing when someone calls you by a nickname? It draws you close to each other. God calls you by name, for you belong to God. Relish in it.
Reading II: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
In this reading, Paul is connecting the messianic promise in the Hebrew scriptures to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul wants to be sure his audience is listening to this message. Jesus came to save them – and us! Know that this Christmas. Jesus comes to us as a small child, unlike any image of Messiah anyone could have possibly imagined. But Jesus comes to us now, in our hearts. We must listen for it.
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25
Matthew begins with this genealogical lineage, almost like a commercial before the main event. It was so important to the people at that time to see a link between Abraham, the Father of their faith, and Jesus. The important link is Joseph, since he is Jesus’ legal father and heir to the house of David. The genealogy shows that God used ordinary, unknown men and women to be part of the greatest story over told. Not just unknown – some were downright scoundrels! David himself was no saint, and others were horrible kings. But everyone has a place in history. We all may have a sordid family tree – Jesus understands that! (Remember that when you are at your family gatherings this Christmas!) Jesus stands as a beacon of light in the midst of relational darkness, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 90).
From Celebration Dec. 2004:
On keeping Christmas all year long: believe and live as if love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than death. “God-with-us” – God’s power and love is forever involved with all that is human.
From The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew Vol I, Barclay:
Jesus is the answer to the dreams of men [and women]. It is true that so often we don’t see it that way. We see the answer in power, wealth, material plenty and the realization of anticipated ambitions. But if ever our dreams of peace and loveliness, and greatness and satisfaction, are to be realized, they can find their realization only in Jesus Christ.
The relationships in this passage are bewildering…first Joseph is betrothed to Mary, then he wants to divorce her, and suddenly she is his wife. These are the steps to a normal Jewish marriage procedure in those days:
- Engagement: This was usually done when the couple were only children, through the parents or a matchmaker.
- Betrothal: This was the sealing of the engagement. The girl could withdraw up to this point. Once entered, it was binding and lasted a year. The couple would be called man and wife even though they didn’t quite have the rights yet. Only divorce could end a betrothal. This is the stage Mary and Joseph were in.
- Marriage: Full marital consent.
Jesus is the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation. Jesus was born by the action of the Holy Spirit, a Virgin Birth. What does this mean for us? According to the Jewish idea, the Holy Spirit was the person who brought God’s truth to humanity. It was the Holy Spirit who taught the prophets what to say and what to do. This is how Mary and Joseph would have understood it. Jesus would be the one person who could tell us what God is like, and what God means us to be. In Jesus we see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God as nowhere else in all this world.
From Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap. That is they why of the incarnation.
God is still here, in the flesh, just as real and just as physical, as God was in Jesus. The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us.