Reflection on Mt.1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7
It is not an ideal way to begin a family—taking your young, expectant wife on a rather long journey, to a town that, although it is your ancestral home, is not home. Who knows how long you will have to stay there?
Dusk is falling as the young couple arrives in town, but it is not too dark to see the activity in the streets, tethered animals, lamps in every window…the signs of visitors. Joseph’s heart sinks a little at the thought of finding a place to stay. If only they could have arrived earlier. Could they have beat the crowd a day or two ago? In any case, they start with the inn. It is already overflowing. This is not too surprising, and with resignation Joseph keeps going, inquiring…where can they stay? And won’t anyone take pity on his wife with child? No, no one has room, no one bends…yes they are sympathetic, but…. Well, perhaps they will try the shepherds’ caves after all.
Tired, hungry, footsore, they tread their weary way to the outskirts of the village. Joseph’s heart is heavy, but Mary’s serenity comforts him. When they reach the cave, Joseph goes in first…just to make sure it’s really empty. Then he tries to make his wife as comfortable as possible. But he is limited: a small fire to fend off the damp chill, a pile of straw as a cushion, a meager supper. Nothing can be done about the lingering smell of sheep. He busies himself with doing what he can, including guarding the cave that provides a little shelter but no security. Yet, even with the little they have, in circumstances no one would choose for the birth of a child, Mary is content. Joseph marvels at her, and he is relieved. She is happy; that is all that matters right now.
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I would be surprised if Joseph felt no twinge of fear, no apprehension, no disappointment or temptation to think he couldn’t measure up to his task. What man’s heart, wanting and unable to provide the best for his family, wouldn’t falter? But I am sure of this: Joseph did not give in or give up. I imagine he kept his own night watch, as did Mary, waiting for the moment for her Son to be born. Surely Joseph turned to the Lord in prayer…the Lord who was guiding every step of their journey.
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Any lingering worries flee when Joseph beholds the miracle—the newborn Baby in Mary’s arms. And when the shepherds arrive, not to intrude or claim territory or make trouble, but to kneel before the Child…what awe fills Joseph’s heart? “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me,” said Our Lady’s cousin. Wouldn’t the Immaculate Virgin’s husband, the one chosen to father the Messiah here on earth augment these words? Who am I to not just behold or touch or pass by this miracle, but to live with, love, guard and provide for the Savior and His Mother? How tender was the moment Joseph first took Jesus in his arms…
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We have probably all been reminded at one time or another that the first Christmas wasn’t idyllic, like a glittery card, a perfectly balanced painting, an intricately carved Nativity scene. These are important, for Christmas is beautiful, and these things help us remember the world-changing event of Jesus’ birth. But it is well worth remembering that God’s beauty broke into our poor, suffering, less-than-ideal world. Jesus came into our world, with its uncertainties, discomforts, trials. God came among us as one of us. Among us with our fears, hopes, disappointments, cares, and tangle of emotions.
I don’t know what Joseph’s experience really was, but I love to imagine it. He was obedient to the Lord and experienced the adventure of following Him, doing God’s will one step at a time. He spent years with Jesus; he experienced the pure and sweet love of Mary. He knew them in the context of a family. He worked hard, he provided, he guarded these Treasures of the Father. He was righteous, prayerful. And, yet, his was not an easy life. None of us gets to live a fairy-tale life, not even the Holy Family. So, then, as we prepare for this Christmas—which surely has its share of difficulties for each of us—we can take solace in that first Christmas and ask St. Joseph’s intercession that we may know the beauty and wonder of the Incarnation. This is also the Year of St. Joseph, so let us go to him often, as our protector, and imitate his humble, faithful, loving service and his obedience to the Lord. In the midst of life’s ups and downs, may St. Joseph keep us close to the Holy Family, that we may know the tenderness of the love of Jesus, Mary and Good St. Joseph.
Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR