Monday, December 25, 2017

St. Joseph and the Nativity

When I first started hearing the story of the Nativity as a child I'd always wonder a bit about Joseph and felt intimidated by the "traditional" Roman Catholic take on him: that he was a young and virile man who, without question, took Mary into his home and provided for her, not sleeping with her, teaching and caring for this young child who he believed to be God. Try as I might, I couldn't relate to Joseph as a person. I didn't know if anyone could react the way he did. How could anyone hear such a story from a twelve year old girl and not feel at least a little doubt? I felt disconnected from the average Roman Catholic's thoughts on the matter.

Turns out the Orthodox Church has preserved the original story as it was told in the Proto-evangelium of James, which clearly outlines what Joseph did: doubt, and hard. When he heard that Mary was pregnant Joseph lost it. In this earlier account Joseph was an older man who had just recently lost his wife of forty years, only to be entrusted with Mary so her virginity could be preserved, by lot, after much protest on Joseph's part. So Joseph was more than a little upset when he found out that Mary was pregnant. He wanted to know why the supposedly most pure woman in the world had gone and turned back on her vow of virginity with a random stranger and wouldn't hear anything to the contrary, storming out on Mary. Joseph was done. He was an old man who missed his wife who just wanted to be left alone. And here he was, stuck in a bonafide first-century teenage drama.

It took Gabriel coming to Joseph in a dream to get him to not divorce Mary. And even then, Joseph doubted. Right up to the Nativity Joseph worried and fretted and wondered if he was crazy to trust his dream and Mary. Most of his family disowned him for being a dirty old man because, by adopting Jesus, Joseph communicated that he, an 80 year old man, had had sex with a 12 or 13 year old girl immediately after being entrusted with her, while still in mourning over his wife of 40 years. Not exactly a good look for him. Joseph was probably ruined socially by accepting Jesus. Only St. James, his youngest son, stood by him, having been comforted by Mary in the wake of his mother's death and therefore knowing her a good deal better than the rest of his family, who resented her for "replacing" their mother. But eventually Joseph did come around, he did believe that this strange child from this strange young woman that had been foisted on him was indeed the Christ and he spent the rest of his life defending that child.

But it did not happen overnight. Nor did it happen in a few weeks, or even a few months. So don't feel bad if, at times, you find yourself wondering if God is really taking care of you, even as He's doing it. Don't worry, you're in incredible company. Saint Joseph doubted and look at how it turned out for him. He got to live with God Himself, something that brought more comfort and peace to his old and hurting soul than he could have ever imagined. And that's what Christ has in mind for all of us.

Go ahead and doubt if you must. Just put the next foot down on the path.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

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