The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
God is with us.
There are few references to Joseph of Nazareth in the gospel narrative but, those that do exist, suggest that he was humble, kindly and generous, as well as being a conscientious parent. Theologians have suggested that the strength of Jesus’ relationship with Joseph is evidenced in his deliberate adoption of the affectionate title Abba (Daddy) when speaking of God, and in his deep personal valuing of the fatherhood of God.
In first century Israel, Joseph was confronted with at great dilemma when faced with the reality of Mary’s pregnancy. For the woman to whom he was espoused to be found in such a condition placed them both in a position of potential social exclusion and physical danger. But, like Mary, Joseph was visited by God’s messenger. And, also like Mary, Joseph said ‘Yes’ to God.
As the Church constantly reflects on Mary’s role in the story of the Incarnation, so it consistently seems to forget Joseph’s similar level of obedience. Joseph quickly disappears from the gospel narrative, but his unconditional acceptance of God’s challenge is just as world-changing in its demonstration of obedience and compliance with God’s will.
Today the Church celebrates the Festival of Joseph of Nazareth. Today we are presented with another ordinary person whose loyalty and faith changed the world. Today we are being encouraged to accept the challenge and copy Joseph as we continue our own pilgrimage of faith.
At this stage I know that many are filled with doubt and apprehension. ‘I am not a Joseph.’ ‘God cannot possibly want me to do great things.’ ‘I just want to live a simple, quiet life.’ All of these expressions of doubt and scepticism, and more, are being expressed right now. But, every such expression of reticence flies in the face of all that was achieved for us two thousand years ago. Joseph was an ordinary man, eking out an ordinary existence in a non-descript hilltop town in a remote corner of the world. Joseph was about to embark upon a new phase in his life when God knocked at his door. Suddenly, humble, ordinary Joseph found himself being asked to serve God in a unique way. Joseph had to choose which path to follow.
No matter who we are God is knocking at our door offering us the same choice. Can we muster the faith to say ‘Yes’ to God? or are we going to slam the door in his face?