A reflection and prayer for December 18, 2017, Day 16 of Advent
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. (Matt 1:18-19)
Of course, we know the rest of the story. Joseph does not put Mary aside. An angel comes to him in a dream. Not, as Russell Saltzman points out, a great Archangel as greeted Mary, but a rather workaday heavenly messenger tasked with reassuring a rather ordinary workman of his time. Joseph, going on faith, brings Mary into his home, and prepares to parent and protect Emmanu-el, “God-with-us.”
People like to say, “We don’t know anything about Joseph.” Well, we know what matters.
- Joseph was righteous; he lived devoutly and in accordance with God’s word.
- Joseph was faithful; he was a man willing to work within the mysteries of God as they came at him.
- Joseph was courageous; it is no small thing to go outside of the customs of a village or a tribe.
- Joseph was generous; the needs of Mary and the Child came before all else, including his established life and industry.
- Joseph was wise; he understood that God’s mind and ways are not our own, but trustworthy.
We know one other thing about Joseph, and this year it might be the most important thing: He was kind.
Joseph’s kindness may outweigh all his other good qualities, even his righteousness. Righteousness can sometimes become a boat stuck on the shoals of Justice, and rendered immovable. Kindness, which contains an element of Mercy, can lift the vessel to freedom.
And in the Year of Our Lord 2017, as our society is being hit with a wave of stories about men behaving very badly toward others, abusing their power and positions in vile and destructive ways, Joseph’s kindness is an example of true masculine strength. He could have, in all “righteousness.” cast Mary aside in a way that publicly shamed her and would have ended her life. Within the law, within the society and the tribe, he had that power and to use it would have meant no dishonor to him.
But even before the reassurances that came from heaven, Joseph was too kind to use his socially-approved power in that way. Having seen qualities in Mary that made him recognize her value, her value was not so lessened in his eyes as to diminish her human status into mere, disposable thing-hood. He would not expose her to that element of humanity that, even today, has a lust for the lives and the blood of the vulnerable, for interests that serve something other than heaven.
Joseph was a righteous man. The devout life he embraced developed his faith; faith gave him courage; courage permitted his generosity; generosity let him grow in wisdom; wisdom taught Joseph kindness. Kindness is where, if we must err at all, our errors should occur.
Joseph made no errors because he was a man of faith, and a man in full. O that the whole world would appreciatively make a model of this righteous, faithful, courageous, generous and kind Jewish man! 2017 would look very different.
Come, Lord Jesus! Come into our world that we might again contemplate the Holy Family — model of human stability in faith and love. Come that we may imagine Joseph, the protector; Joseph, the provider; Joseph the loving guide and servant — the strong foundation upon which Salvation was able to grow and flourish until the appointed time — the model of manhood our world needs today. Amen.
Aleteia is bringing you reflections — Advent Light — for each day of this 2017 liturgical season. Follow the series here.