Christ is born! Glorify Him!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Like his namesake, Joseph of old (Gn. 37:1-44:9), Joseph the husband of Mary is a receiver of dreams through which God speaks to him things regarding this most holy and divine Child and His Mother (Sr. 34:5-8). We see this as well in the Gospel read at Matins on the Eve of the Nativity itself (Mt. 1:18-25). God reveals to the seemingly perplexed Joseph in a dream that the Child his betrothed bears in her virginal womb is, in fact, a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, that he is to name Him Jesus, “’for He shall save His people from their sins.’” This Child is of divine origin, begotten of the Father before all ages, and born of the flesh of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary in time.
But perhaps what stands out the most for me is the impeccable character of St. Joseph the Betrothed, as we have come to know him. He is characterized, like others of the Nativity story, as “a just man,” meaning he was a righteous man who walked blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, just like the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Sts. Joachim and Anna, and like the holy and righteous parents of the Forerunner and Baptist John, Zacharias and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:6). Joseph the Betrothed is made the Protector and Guardian of our Lord and His blessed Mother precisely because he was a good man who feared God, possessed faith, and loved God as the righteous do. He loved the Child his espoused wife bore and he loved the Mother of Jesus so much that, in a seeming moment of quandary as he tried to fathom his beloved’s pregnancy, he was determined to be a man of compassion and mercy. The Old Testament Law called for the stoning of a man or woman caught in adultery, an egregious violation of the sacred covenant of marriage (Lv. 20:10; Dt. 22:22; Jn. 8:4-5). But the sacred text calls Joseph “a just man . . . not willing to make her a public example.” He was content and at peace and sought to forego a public spectacle in favor (or because of grace) to address this most perplexing issue privately. Joseph in his heart, in his moral virtue, in his life embodied or enfleshed (there is the theme of Incarnation) the mercy praised by both our Lord, the adopted Son of Joseph, and the Prophets (Ho. 6:7 `; Mt. 9:13). “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Mc. 6:8). This, beloved, is the prophetic image of Joseph, the husband of Mary and step-father of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
There are other Church Fathers like St. Jerome and Origen who thought that Joseph wasn’t perplexed at all about the Panagia’s pregnancy. But rather understood the divine origin of this natal state, and deeply pondered the Mystery, chewed upon its reality in his heart and mind. And so, he determined in his heart of hearts to guard and protect the Virgin’s inviolability both before and after she gave birth to the Son of God, thus making her Ever-Virgin, and in doing so he became the cherished step-father of Jesus and remained the betrothed of Mary. Joseph the Betrothed, Guardian and Protector of his Holy Family, did as God commands all men like him to be and to do. There is no greater incarnation of love than to sacrifice one’s self for the sake of others, as St. Joseph’s step-Son once told some others on the eve of His Crucifixion (Jn. 15:13).
Joseph’s fear of God, and his faith and love, made themselves well known to his family and to us who commemorate him this day. It is our Orthodox teaching that the Mystery of Marriage provides the God-blessed, God-ordained setting for the intensive living out of this faith, hope, and love. A husband and wife are crowned during the Mystery, not only to signify that they are king and queen, reigning over their family as royalty, but, even moreso, the crowns are crowns of martyrdom. It is in the divinely-ordained family that we are able to learn how to die to self as we give ourselves over to the other. In love, Joseph gives himself to both the Child he has not begotten and the Virgin entrusted to his manly care as Betrothed, Guardian, and Protector. He reveals a high and holy calling that each of us like him, as fathers and husbands, can emulate. Inasmuch as God, as we said last Sunday, does not spurn the less than perfect ancestry and family line traced for us in the Holy Gospel, He nonetheless placed His only-begotten Son in the best of all families within the lineage of David and Abraham. Joseph raises Jesus as his own and models for him what it means to be faithful to the divine Covenant of Israel and to the God of this Covenant. He demonstrates the faithfulness of a father for his children and a husband to his wife. A quaint saying we have hanging on our wall at home says something to the effect that the greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Quaint, but true. Indeed, Joseph espoused this and is the epitome of the grace of God. Joseph taught Jesus to put God first by faithfully following the Law, including attending synagogue on the Sabbath. A notable hallmark of our Lord is attributed to Him by St. Luke who observes in his Gospel that when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He had been raised, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day “as was His custom” (Lk. 4:16). Where did Jesus develop this custom, but within the formation He experienced at the hands of His just step-father and His most holy Mother, that is to say, within the family whose spiritual head was Joseph, as ordained by God in Sacred Scripture (Ep. 5:22-33). And, it would not surprise me if the loving care of our dying Lord for His Mother, entrusting her into the care of His beloved Disciple, John, is the result of His experience there in the Holy Family. St. Joseph the Betrothed was obedient, faithful, devoted, and pious.
St. Nikolai of Zhicha speaks praises of St. Joseph and lauds him with the highest of honors. He says of him that Joseph “did not reason for himself” when confronted with his betrothed’s pregnancy, “but obeyed the will of God. Therefore, God made him worthy of great glory, both on earth and in Heaven. Quietly and secretly he served God, and God glorified him openly.” St. Nikolai concludes his reflection in his Synaxarion, The Prologue of Ohrid, with this thought: “Thus, God glorifies those who fear Him and obey Him.”
We would do well to ponder this ongoing Mystery of the Incarnation and apply it to ourselves accordingly. Can we do any better than to take the noble and courageous and virtuous Joseph as our guide? He did lead his family, did he not, all the days of his life and was blessed by God accordingly?
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!