Bethlehem in Germany,
Glitter on the sloping roofs,
Panels of nativity
Open paper scenes where doors
Open into other scenes.
Leaning from the cliff of heaven,
Indicating whom he weeps for.
Joseph lifts his lamp above
The infant, like a candle crown.
Let my fingers touch the silence
Where the infant’s father cries.
Gjertrude Schnackenberg, Advent Calendar
Who is our Joseph, really? He is a figure familiar to us in crêche scenes and Advent calendars…but what do we really know about him?
Well, in Matthew’s Gospel, we are told that Joseph, the carpenter, is a descendent of King David and also of the great priest Zadok. He is betrothed to Mary and when he learns of her pregnancy he thinks “to divorce her quietly.” But shortly after this, we discover what really makes Joseph tick: he is a dreamer. Having decided to put Mary aside, he hears from God in a dream that the child is “of the Holy Spirit” and that he, Joseph, is to care for him and even to name Mary’s child. And that is what Joseph does. He cares for the Mary and Jesus. He names the child. And he follows two more dreams, one that leads the family to Bethlehem and another that leads them back.
So, in this Gospel, we know what Joseph does… but who is he? Is he fat or thin? Young or old? Rich or poor? Later writings will tell us he is an old widower. But other writings contradict that. Some extra canonical gospels paint him as reticent while others show him as the decisive guide to Jesus his son. Tradition has painted him as poor, while scholarship points to potential affluence on his part. It seems that Joseph will remain a man of mystery. Those things that we are told however, paint a picture of a man who is humble, obedient to God’s will, prudent, and loving.
Now why do I mention Joseph this month? Well, if anyone embodies Advent, I think it is Joseph. As Mary’s support and advocate prior to the birth, he holds even less power than she.
And I would suggest that Advent is a time in which WE learn to live in the tension of powerless waiting. And the message Joseph offers us in Advent is “you don’t have to be rich or handsome or even particularly fit to live in tension and wait. All you need is to be humble, prudent, obedient to God and loving.”
So this season, do a little dreaming of your own. Trust your connection to God. Be aware of your own actions. Strive for humility, prudence, obedience to God, and love. Then, who knows maybe you can “touch the silence where the infant’s father cries” and find yourself in Bethlehem this Christmas.