Christmas Novena • Fourth Station
The Angel Visits Joseph
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
Veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people,
at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths,
Whom the Gentiles shall seek:
Come to deliver us, do not tarry.
Anton Raphael Mengs, The Dream of St. Joseph, 1773-1774, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.
But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins.”
Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: “Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not, till she brought forth her first born son: and he called his name Jesus.
“Joseph and Christmas” by Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Joseph and Mary were at this stage of their relationship, legally married but not yet living together, when Mary became pregnant. Joseph, knowing that the child was not his, had a dilemma: If he wasn’t the father, who was? In order to save his own reputation, he could have demanded a public inquiry and, indeed, had Mary been accused of adultery, it might have meant her death. However, he decided to “divorce her quietly”, that is, to avoid a public inquiry which would leave her in an awkward and vulnerable situation.
Then, after receiving revelation in a dream, he agrees to take her home as his wife and to name the child as his own. Partly we understand the significance of that, he spares Mary embarrassment, he names the child as his own, and he provides an accepted physical, social, and religious place for the child to be born and raised. But he does something else that is not so evident: He shows how a person can be a pious believer, deeply faithful to everything within his religious tradition, and yet at the same time be open to a mystery beyond both his human and religious understanding.
And this was exactly the problem for any Christians, including Matthew himself, at the time the Gospels were written: They were pious Jews who didn’t know how to integrate Christ into their religious framework. What does one do when God breaks into one’s life in new, previously unimaginable ways? How does one deal with an impossible conception? Here’s how Raymond Brown puts it: The hero of Matthew’s infancy story is Joseph, a very sensitive Jewish observer of the Law. … In Joseph, the evangelist was portraying what he thought a Jew [a true pious believer] should be and probably what he himself was.
In essence what Joseph teaches us is how to live in loving fidelity to all that we cling to humanly and religiously, even as we are open to a mystery of God that takes us beyond all the categories of our religious practice and imagination.
Isn’t that one of the ongoing challenges of Christmas?
Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI is a world-renowned speaker and author, as well as being a professor and former president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio.
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During this reflective season of Advent we think about Our Savior who came to help the poor and most abandoned. Would you please help the Missionary Oblates care for them?