‘They forgot to bring Joseph!’
I frantically whispered to one of the ushers last Christmas Eve. Each year, our parish invites two or three children to carry small figures of Mary, Joseph, and baby in the opening procession and complete the nativity that we had begun “building” since the first Sunday of Advent. Amidst the exhilaration of the night and unopened presents under the tree, one of the kiddos had forgotten to grab Joseph.
It wasn’t until I brought up the end of the procession that I noticed Joseph had been left behind. As I considered my already full hands, I wondered if anyone would even notice if he didn’t resume his traditional place next to Mary. The usher, however, looked at me with a measure of horror and disbelief. Finagling my hymnal, I grabbed Joseph, tucked him under my arm and hoped nobody would notice his head and legs jutting from my armpit.
Whether anyone in the congregation did in fact notice or care that night I’ll never know. In the end, Joseph took his rightful place in the crowded display, and the glory of the brass and congregation singing “O come all ye faithful” outweighed any semblance of disorder.
Always so dutiful,
always so faithful,
always standing on the sidelines,
always getting left behind.
In the nativity drama his role can seem miniscule. After his son’s birth, he nearly disappears from all four Gospels save for a brief cameo as an anguished dad searching the temple for his now-precocious son.
Yet, there is so much more to Joseph than the white and blue tunic from my kids’ bible. Yet, in my achievement-oriented mind, I tend to overlook the tenacity and faithfulness of Joseph’s attention to the present, the ordinary, the here-and-now.
This is the Joseph with cracked heels, tired feet, and a back worn down by miles of pedestrian travel. He will not stop until Mary can deliver in relative safety. This is the Joseph with the worry lines etched into his forehead as he considers the implications of his fiancé’s impending labor. He could leave and save his reputation, pride, and safety—but, he won’t.
This is the Joseph who says yes to God knowing his response will likely render him an anathema in his community. He still says yes. And, this is the Joseph who takes the risk of loving someone whose future he can’t pin down.
He lets love make him do the impossible.
I doubt this Joseph would have cared whether or not he made it into the nativity scene at a suburban Maryland church. He probably would not have been fazed by my frustration at what I perceived to be a glitch in the Christmas Eve worship. Instead, he would have remembered the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid,” and he would say yes:
To a calling lived not in the spotlight, but behind the scenes.
To the future.
To the unknown.
But above all, to Love.
Perhaps instead of focusing on how things appear and what is beyond our control (I know, it’s soooo hard), we can go forth this day on the Feast of Saint Joseph — even this whole week — and say ‘yes.’ We can say yes whenever fear wants to say no, pride wants to maintain the status quo, and exhaustion leads us to wonder if our efforts and life are all for naught.
How will you reply?
[Image Credit: The Holy Family with Saints Anne and Catherine of Alexandria by Jusepe de Ribera. Property of Public Domain via the Met.]
The Rev. Dr. Virginia W. Nagel says
Blue and white “tunic”? I suspect that the tunic was white homespun, and the blue “apron”, sign of a tradesman, was a carpenter’s apron (still used in traditional religious habits, and called “scapular”, because they hang from the shoulders). I can’t figure out why it was blue…my grandpa, also a carpenter, always wore a blue chambray work shirt,but in Joseph’s time, blue dye was exorbitantly expensive, so that doesn’t quite fit. Just some random thoughts…