Clergy Cogitations

Nov 24, 2023

Over the years I have developed something of a soft spot for St Joseph, especially because of the way he is portrayed in the traditional nativity scenes. Poor old Joseph, the tall, quiet boy in a school nativity, with his nondescript tea-towel head-dress and an old brown dressing gown, marooned at the back of the scene. Centre-place given to Mary, seated, and all in brilliant blue, and the crib, with the infant Jesus. Joseph is further edged out by the pushy shepherds and the Wise Men in their silks and crowns and bearing marvellous gifts. To say nothing of the noisy angels in their glistening white and sparkly tinsel. Poor old Joseph indeed.

In Nazareth today, tucked behind the vast Basilica of the Annunciation dedicated to Mary, there is a little church dedicated to Joseph. You have to look to find it, but it sits quietly in the background. It has some wonderful images of Joseph, with Jesus and Mary, including one I particularly like of Jesus and Mary looking after Joseph in his old age.

There is so little said about Joseph in the Bible. The largest section about him is in Matthew’s gospel when we read of the angel coming to tell Joseph that Mary is expecting a child and that the child is not his. We gloss over the story because it is so familiar to us, just as we gloss over many other over-familiar stories. It deserves our closer attention. It was certainly something for Mary to accept that she was going to be the mother of Jesus. It was equally something that Joseph, whatever he really thought or felt had happened, was willing to stand-by his fiancée.

Not only through the pregnancy and the birth, but in those crucial years afterwards. Steering them to safety in Egypt when Herod plotted the death of the children in Bethlehem. Bringing the little family home to Nazareth when the threat was over. Fathering other children (the Bible speaks of Jesus’ brothers and sisters). Then disappearing from sight entirely.

Joseph is one of the many shadowy people in the Bible. They are on the fringes, populating its pages, giving some depth and colour, but we know so little about them, or the details of their lives. Yet without them, the human stories in the Bible would be so much emptier. What support did Joseph provide for Mary and Jesus? What faith lessons did Joseph pass on to the child as He grew up? Did Jesus remain the favoured older son in the family? Did he preside over a happy
home?

In the background, yet one of the key people in the Christmas story, Joseph stands for many who make our contemporary enjoyment of Christmas possible. Those people who provide food, warmth, music, light and so many other things that we take for granted over Christmas. Remember the background Christmas people, without whom Christmas would not be complete, and give thanks for their service. And have a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Drew

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