If someone, some person not at all acquainted with our faith, asked you: “How did the birth of Jesus happen?” what would you respond? I suppose most people would say something like: “God sent an angel, Mary asked some questions, Mary consented to God’s proposal, the Holy Spirit came upon her and she conceived a Son, and that Son Jesus was born nine months later in a manger in Bethlehem.”
But that’s not how St. Matthew answered the question. St. Matthew’s entire account of how the birth of Jesus came about concerns Joseph:
Joseph finds that Mary is with child
Joseph intends to divorce Mary quietly
Joseph has a dream
Joseph wakes up and takes Mary as his wife
Joseph names him Jesus.
From God’s perspective, Joseph’s role is essential, even central, and this is even reflected in the prophecy of Isaiah cited by St. Matthew. A lot of ink has been spilled over the way in which this prophecy is interpreted in the New Testament…Almah vs. Bethula/Parthenos…But what very few people recognize is that the Hebrew word there “Almah” means a maiden under a guardian. St. Joseph is in the prophecy. That’s why when St. Matthew cites it in translation, he says the virgin shall be with child and THEY shall call Him Emmanuel. The virgin was not alone, she had a guardian in God’s plan.
In the modern world we tend to see the role of the man in the family as optional, dispensable, flexible. In our world in which divorce and single-mothers are commonplace, it is hard to see why a father and a husband are essential. Modern people can’t see why a husband rather than the wife should be the head of the family. After all, the wife is often smarter and morally better than the husband. It is difficult for modern people to understand why women can’t be priests, why marriage needs a husband. And so it is not surprising that when we think about how the birth of Jesus happened, we seem to give little or no thought to Joseph. But God thought quite a bit about Joseph.
If ever in the history of the world a husband and a father were unnecessary, it was in the Holy Family:
The child already had a Father: God the Father
The woman already had a spouse, the Holy Spirit
Certainly, the Father and the Holy Spirit didn’t need any help.
Joseph was not needed to conceive or educate or protect the child
Joseph was not needed to as a level head to make family decisions
Joseph was not needed to help his wife along the path to moral perfection
Joseph was not even needed to provide for them…Jesus could provide as much bread as they needed, to say nothing of the wine
All the excuses that modern people use to deny the necessity of a father in a family were present in the Holy Family, and then some. Yet in spite of this, out of the fullness of his mercy and wisdom, God choose to act through Joseph in every matter that pertained to the Holy Family. Joseph names the child, and when God determined that the Holy Family needed to relocate, on all three occasions the instructions came to Joseph, not to Mary or through the child. God would not allow one iota of the natural law to pass away. Grace builds on, perfects and preserves nature, even in its most extraordinary manifestations.
“This is how the birth of Jesus came about” Joseph took Mary into his home and on the octave day of His birth he named the child Jesus. Christmas day is an octave away, and Jesus wants to be born again in us. How shall this birth of Jesus come about unless like Joseph, we take Mary into our home, and lovingly speak the Holy Name of Jesus? How shall Jesus be born in us unless St. Joseph too live in our hearts?
Saint Joseph, I, your unworthy child, greet you. You are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you. You know that I have special confidence in you and that, after Jesus and Mary, I place all my hope of salvation in you, for you are especially powerful with God and will never abandon your faithful servants. Therefore I humbly invoke you and commend myself, with all who are dear to me and all that belong to me, to your intercession. I beg of you, by your love for Jesus and Mary, not to abandon me during life and to assist me at the hour of my death.
Glorious Saint Joseph, spouse of the Immaculate Virgin, obtain for me a pure, humble, charitable mind, and perfect resignation to the divine Will. Be my guide, my father, and my model through life that I may merit to die as you did in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Loving Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, I raise my heart to you to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the Divine Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for my spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the special grace I now implore:
(Mention your request).
Guardian of the Word Incarnate, I feel confident that your prayers in my behalf will be graciously heard before the throne of God. Amen.