The foster father of Jesus is a man of mystery. Saint Joseph does not speak a single word in the Bible, and over the centuries many have speculated about what the holy man might have been thinking. Perhaps this Advent and Christmas, we can spend some time meditating on Saint Joseph. We may learn something from his quiet, unassuming place in the life of Christ.
There are many portrayals of the foster father of Jesus in movies. However, two of them are most familiar to me. I love the crinkle-eyed smile of the Joseph of Jesus of Nazareth, the 1977 Franco Zeffirelli TV mini-series. But I also find the impulsive, sometimes comical Joseph of the animated The Star endearing. His lack of confidence in his limited skills as a carpenter cause him to ask, “Why me?” when chosen to raise the Son of God. But every time he feels overwhelmed, he drops to his knees and prays.
But then what?
During the months of Mary’s pregnancy, after agreeing to take her as his wife, Joseph must have experienced opportunities for doubt. Just because Joseph knew the truth about the baby Mary carried does not mean others did as they watched Mary grow with child. There must have been gossip, criticism, and opinions from his neighbors. Any of these could have broken the resolve of a lesser man.
Imagine the trip to Bethlehem and the chaos and panic of trying to find a safe and private place for Mary to give birth. Yet the Bible mentions this so casually: “She . . . laid him in manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Perhaps the story is so calm in its retelling because Saint Joseph handled things like a man whose faith cannot be shaken.
Where did he get his strength?
What about those years in Egypt after the child was born? There was no internet, no phones, no TV news or even mail delivery to let Joseph know what was happening in his home country. The young family had escaped in the night. So it was likely they did not even have time to inform their kin where they were heading.
I wonder if, during those years in Egypt, Joseph ever thought, “What am I doing here? This is not where I belong.” Did he ever long to return to his home or weep for missing his family?
We can imagine our Lord sending Joseph encouragement, perhaps in the form of dreams, during this lonely time. But it is more likely that even as he watched Jesus grow and become strong in spirit (Luke 1:80), Saint Joseph, too, grew in his faith in God’s plan. How could he not?
What Saint Joseph teaches us
Can we learn a lesson from this when we feel we don’t know where we are going or how we ended up where we are? When we look in the mirror or examine our lives and feel lost and alone, wishing we could go back to a time or place where things were different, we can do what Saint Joseph must have done. Hold onto Jesus.
We can picture ourselves holding the child in our arms, looking into his serene and holy face. We can allow that peace to wash over us just like Joseph must have done. Amazingly, the truth is that at that very moment, Jesus is holding us in his arms and gazing at us with love we cannot imagine.