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Why you should turn to St. Joseph especially in a short Advent

Christmas nativity scene with Mary. Joseph, the three wise men and baby Jesus in a manger

Manuel Milan | Shutterstock

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 12/22/23

When I consider St. Joseph’s feelings on Christmas night, I suspect that he too felt ill-prepared.

There’s nothing like the shortest-possible Advent to make it seem that Christmas has come too quickly. But when I consider St. Joseph’s feelings on Christmas night, I suspect that he too felt ill-prepared. It wasn’t his fault, of course, as that census sure made a mess of things, but surely he must have felt that the big day had arrived and he wasn’t ready for it — that he had a mission to do as a husband and father and, despite his best efforts, he wasn’t succeeding at it.

I imagine him fighting manly tears of desperation as he reports back to Mary about yet another rejection from yet another innkeeper, and Mary, ever-sinless, doing what she can to assuage his frustration. But perhaps she couldn’t do much.

I grew up on a farm, so the idea of being born surrounded by animals doesn’t hold much romance for me. Above all, the smells. And the flies. But as a makeshift solution, it was better than nothing. I’m sure Joseph did what he could to create a space as suitable as possible — but it was last minute and sorely lacking … not at all what he would have dreamed of three weeks ago, at the start of his own first Advent.

Yet upon this scene entered the Word made Flesh, the Merciful One.

Salvation through suffering

One of the truly awe-inspiring facets of the power of God’s mercy is how soundly he is able to claim victory over evil. Suffering and death entered the world through sin, so it is precisely through and with suffering and death that God brings salvation. He wrests the weapons themselves from the Prince of Darkness and turns them right around to vanquish him, in the process enshrouding the very weapons in light.

This is why St. Paul can say, “We know that in everything, God works for good” (Romans 8:28). And why the Catechism explains that “Christ’s inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon’s envy had taken away. … There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good” (CCC 412, emphasis mine).

Misery made gift

When I place myself in contemplation with Joseph in the stable, it’s easy for me to consider the animals with their accompanying stench (and flies!) as symbols of the many vices that I’d like to chase off.

But washed in the mercy of this tiny infant, these very animals come to offer their contribution to the wee child.

Artists depict the warmth of their breath shielding his sweet head from the cold. Benedict XVI considered them even as “an image of a hitherto blind humanity which now, before the child, before God’s humble self-manifestation in the stable, has learned to recognize him.” (The Pope Emeritus has a page-long reflection on the symbolism of the ox and ass in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 69.)

My very ill-preparedness is sufficient gift to him, and to give that gift I don’t need Advent to magically stretch any longer.

And this experience of mercy gives energy and serenity for these last few hours of Advent, warding off any temptation to sulk in remorse or needless worry.

Worry not

In 2015, Pope Francis’ warned the Roman Curia to be on guard because it is the work of Satan to instill a woe-is-me type remorse and worry that get us nowhere:

“St. Ignatius taught that ‘it is typical of the evil spirit to instill remorse, sadness and difficulties, and to cause needless worry so as to prevent us from going forward; instead, it is typical of the good spirit to instill courage and energy, consolations and tears, inspirations and serenity, and to lessen and remove every difficulty so as to make us advance on the path of goodness.’”

So let’s turn to St. Joseph, join him in feeling ill-prepared, and turn our eyes to the birthing mother and the coming newborn.

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AdventSaint Joseph
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