Wait. Isn’t he that chap who blurs into the backdrop of the Nativity scene? In a Christmas creche, our eyes focus on the Child and His Mother. That’s understandable. They’re the central figures in this drama. But are we not missing what the person and presence of Joseph signals?
Yes, says theologian Catalino Arevalo, SJ of Loyola House of Studies. Thus, many Catholics were surprised to read an earlier Time magazine eight-page feature: “Joseph, Husband of Mary and ‘Adoptive’ Father of Jesus.”
It is anchored to the book that Presbyterian minister Howard Edington, wrote after the death of his 22-year-old, son titled: “The Forgotten Man of Christmas:” And it’s theme is a father’s love for his son.
“Edington’s book ends with a meditation on the power of love to ennoble the lover, especially if the beloved is God,” Time says. “A model of Joseph, as believer, would pass muster in almost any Christian church.”
The French theologian Fr. Marie Dominique highlights Joseph’s actions, at Christmas, around the Magi and the shepherds. When the Magi enter the house where Christ is, they only see Mary and Jesus, Matthew wrote. Joseph is not mentioned.
But when the shepherds come to worship, Luke says they see Mary, Jesus — and Joseph. This descendant of David joins the shepherds in their reverence — underscoring the role of modern Christians. (We’re) called, like Joseph, to be “silent saints” who worship the Child in the manger, and offer up our lives through our work.
“Many of us will never stand among great political figures”. But we join multitudes of common workers like the shepherds. We stand with the poor ol’ regular folks in the pew, a people of silent adoration and submission to God’s will.
Joseph took God’s son into his home in Nazareth, thus providing Jesus with a normal, loving family environment in which to grow,’ Edington writes. ‘Joseph took God’s son into his heart, thus discovering a purpose for his own life within the greater purposes of God.’
He has become part of the ‘bond of faith – and other things –- between a father and son not related by blood’, Fr. Arevalo points out. A line from another book notes: “As a father, Joseph loved the Son who did not have his eyes – the Son of a Stranger.”
We need to see Joseph in the context of the often unremarked bond between fathers and sons. The gospel narratives tell us little about the “the emotional impacts or of the people involved in them. Luke says of Mary, little more “she did not understand, that she kept these things and pondered over them in her heart.”
Joseph goes through the gospel without speaking a single a word. But he acts in times of crisis. Herod’s centurions were mounting to slay the Child, when an angel told him: Take the Child and his Mother, and flee to Egypt. “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod”.
And on return he discovers that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the place of Herod, his father. Being warned in a dream, Joseph turned aside to the remote village of Nazareth to shield the Son and his Mother — “where Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and man”, the gospels tell us.
There is also little recorded of those years in Nazareth. We can only infer. “Even as he loved Mary greatly, he grew to love Mary’s boy, this “Son of a Stranger” with a true father’s love. Surely, Mary told him of the angel’s message about this Boy, and what his mission and tasks would be, about the pain and the glory in the future.
There were chapters and chapters of day-to-day existence together, over and beyond the few precious lines the gospels give us about Bethlehem and Egypt and the long years in Nazareth. “Joseph was truly part of them all.”
He learned from Joseph “how to avoid the knots in the wood, how to cut it along the grain, and how to make sure it is already quite dry so it will not unexpectedly split.” How did Joseph transmit the deeper lessons? How is a parent’s love both hard love and tender love, and all the way true?
There is no record when – and more important– how Joseph died. “As a man lives, so shall he die,” an old adage says. Some therefore infer that it may have been Mary who, with tears, gently closed his eyes after he breathed his last. He lay in the arms of the Carpenter who, before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, wept. Maybe. Who knows?
Joseph remains “the forgotten man of Christmas 2013,” Fr. Arevalo points out. He is also the “forgotten man of so many the years before Jesus began his own mission for the Father; the years before Calvary and its wood and its nails hammered by other hands than those of the carpenter who first taught the Boy about the tests and travails of a man’s world. “
Yet even now, he lives. Our national hero was given his name: Jose. He is “officially” protector of the Church, patron of the Christian home, working people and of Christian vocations, specially to patron of journeys, and at the end of life, in a most significant way, patron of the dying.
“(Joseph) was the first/ To find her thus, the first of all the world. And when her faint smile called for him to take/ Him for a breathless moment, he was first/ To know there is no other blessedness. “