As the Indian Orthodox Church as a whole prepares for the birth of Jesus Christ, when God who was not bound by time and matter chose of His own free will to reduce Himself to the state of a servant and bound Himself by time and became man, the Church commemorates the angel’s revelation to St. Joseph on the third Sunday of December. We are all aware of the background of the Gospel portion found in the Gospel of St. Matthew 1:18-25, where we listen about Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary. As I try to meditate on the Gospel portion, I am brought to understand the personality of Joseph and his unique role in the life of Jesus. Let us try to understand them and emulate them in our life.
If we compare to the life of the saints, like many of them who have stepped onto the world’s stage for a brief period of time and then disappeared from the records, we have only the barest of facts regarding St. Joseph. He appears in the Holy Bible prior to the birth of our Lord Jesus until the 12-year old Jesus is found in the Temple of Jerusalem. Then he disappears from the pages of history. God had chosen Joseph for a particular role in the story of our salvation, he played his part with mercy and kindness, and then he is gone. As a Jew, Joseph would have been waiting in expectation for the coming of the Messiah, and now, the part that he is asked to play in the coming of the Savior is of utmost importance in our salvation story.
If we look at his role in the life of Jesus, then the most important thing which Joseph provided in the few years was his protection. The Blessed Virgin Mary was protected from shame and punishment; both Mary and the child Jesus was protected from cruel rulers; the truth about the God-man Jesus was protected from a too early revelation to the world; and above all, the fact that God has taken our form upon Himself was hidden from the Evil One.
Among other important characteristics of St. Joseph, St. Matthew’s Gospel begins with his family lineage, where we see that Joseph was a descendant of David, the great King, and Jesus, through virtue of adoption inherits this honor but is a greater King. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that because of Joseph’s family connection to King David, who was of the city of Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary had to travel to that city to register in the census that was being taken and that is where the birth of Jesus took place, fulfilling one of the prophesies of old:
And you, O Bethlehem, House of Ephrathah, though you are fewest in number among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be ruler of Israel. Micah 5:1
Icon of Revelation to Joseph
St. Matthew also tells us that Joseph was a “just” man. But if he had been merely seeking justice, Joseph would have reported Mary’s pregnancy to the Jewish authorities and she could have been subjected to a severe and humiliating punishment. Instead, he showed mercy by deciding to seek a divorce privately in order to spare her such shame. But God had other intentions and sent His messenger to assure Joseph that the child Mary was carrying was of the Holy Spirit and would save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Joseph, being not only a just and merciful man, but also a devout religious man, believed the words of the angel and took Mary to be his wife.
Joseph became the first convert to the Christian faith, for he abandoned his fallen opinion of Mary and received with joy the revelation of God that this Child would be for the salvation of not only the people of Israel, but of all mankind. Joseph did not doubt, but remained faithful to the word of God that had been given to him by the angel. Later, after the birth of the Child, an angel again came to him and instructed him to take the Child and his mother into Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod. Perhaps by this time Joseph would have realized his vocation as the protector of the Virgin Mary and her Child. He saved her and child Jesus when King Herod had all Jewish boys under the age of two murdered. This, too, fulfilled a prophesy: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” Hosea 11:1
Icon of escape to Egypt
From this journey to Egypt and the return, and finally settling down as a family in Nazareth, we see a man, well over eighty years old, in complete obedience and dependence to the word of God. We can see his complete dependence and faith in God’s providence for embarking upon a very difficult journey of months over the sands of the desert from Israel to Egypt and then again back to Nazareth. We can see that he simply followed day by day the leading of God. Throughout this whole time, even though he lost all of his business relations he had established over the years and the unstability of being an immigrant in a different country, Joseph acted out of simple trust and obedience to the word of the Lord.
As the head of a good Jewish household, Joseph made certain that the requirements of the law were fulfilled. Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day and He was presented in the temple forty days after His birth when Simeon and Anna proclaimed amazing things about this Child. The family also traveled to Jerusalem for Passover and it was there, when Jesus was twelve years old that He stayed behind in the Temple when His parents left for home and, after three days, was found by them speaking with the religious leaders.
How much can we learn from St. Joseph! By following his example, we can learn to listen for the voice of God in our hearts, giving us direction for our lives – direction that we, living in the ways of the world, would not think of. Whether we experience God’s direction through the dramatic appearance of an angel in a dream or by quietly praying, meditating, and listening, we should be like St. Joseph, and believe that God has a plan for our lives and cares about the decisions and actions that we take.
We should also remember that we – members of Christ’s body, the Church – are in the same royal lineage as St. Joseph. We are inheritors of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to King David and all who followed. We are the New Israel, partakers of the New Covenant. As such, we should not only seek justice but always show mercy; we should remember that God’s ways are greater than our own and that God’s laws should always be interpreted through the love of Christ. If we look to St. Joseph for an example, we will observe the practices of our faith and also teach our children to do so, and we will perform our earthly occupations with humility and patience.
May the prayers of St. Joseph the just, righteous and devout believer, protector of Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus, be unto us a refuge.