Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid, so real, that you could swear that it really happened? Have you ever had an angel speak to you in a dream? I haven’t but I have friends who swear they have and I have no reason to doubt their word.
Don’t you sometimes wish an angel WOULD speak to you. It would definitely make it easier to make some decisions. Should I change jobs? Should I invest all my money in gold? Should I take that trip I’ve been thinking about? Wouldn’t it be nice if an angel would show up, kind of like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life?
The thing is, if it did happen, would we believe it? Remember, George Baily didn’t believe Clarence. He thought either Clarence was crazy, or he was crazy. Whether our angel shows up in a dream or as we’re about to jump off a bridge, we’re probably going to be skeptical.
So, here’s Joseph. First his fiancé comes up pregnant with a crazy story about the Holy Spirit. I’m sure Joseph said something to Mary like “I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.” The relationship must have been on shaky ground. Joseph was a businessman. He had a reputation to protect. What will people think when his young future wife’s tunic starts to bulge? Either they’ll think it’s his, which was a terrible scandal in those days, or they’ll think it’s not his, which would be even worse. Oy, veh! What to do, what to do?
Then one night he has this dream. An angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. Her story about the Holy Spirit is true. This child will save his people from their sins.
Fortunately for you and me, Joseph took the angel at his word. He didn’t write off the dream as the result of eating pizza before he went to bed, like I might do. No, his faith made him believe.
But, why do we hear this story the week before Christmas? Why has the Church decided that Joseph’s actions are important. The Sunday before Christmas is kind of “prime time” in the Liturgical Year. Unless you come to mass every day, this is the last message you’re going to hear before we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Face it, even if Joseph had said “forget it, I’m outa here”, Jesus still would have been born. He still would have saved us from our sins. Heck, we don’t even know what happened to Joseph after the incident where Jesus stays behind at the temple. We don’t know how he died and there’s not a single word spoken by him in the entire New Testament.
We don’t pray the “Hail Joseph” and there are very few songs written about him. But he must be an important part of the story or we wouldn’t be reading this particular Gospel on this particular day. Here’s what I think.
Joseph is just like you and me. Guys, he’s the perfect role model for fathers. He gave up everything for his wife and son. The angel said “take Mary into your home.” He took her into his home. The angel said “give up your business and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.” He took them to Egypt.
The angel came to him again and said “Take them back” and he took them back. All the while the poor guy was living in a home with two sinless people. Anything that ever went wrong was HIS fault. Just imagine being the step-father of the Son of God. Imagine what God would do if Joseph let something happen to Jesus. It’s bad enough if you let your own kid get lost, just think if Joseph let God’s son fall out of a tree and break his neck. It wouldn’t be pretty.
That’s what makes Joseph a good father, but what about those of us who aren’t fathers, particularly you ladies. How is Joseph a role model for you?
Joseph did everything that was asked of him and he did it not expecting any earthly reward. There was no recognition in his lifetime. There were no “parent of the year” awards. Most of the things he did, he did in secrecy. Even John the Baptist’s father’s words are part of our faith tradition. The Canticle of Zechariah is part of the Church’s daily prayers. But there’s no “Canticle of Joseph”. All we know is that he said yes to the angel. And we know that from his actions because his words were never recorded.
So, as you and I go about our daily lives, we do what Joseph did. We act in faith. We don’t expect an earthly reward. Most of us will pass through this life and move on to the next, never knowing the good that we’ve done unless we run into our own personal Clarence. And that’s probably not going to happen.
The Church reminds us of our role by presenting the story of Joseph just ahead of the celebration of his step-son’s birth. Did Joseph have to say “yes”. No he didn’t. Would Jesus have been born, lived and died, and been raised on the third day without Joseph? Yes he would have.
But Joseph did say “Yes” and he stands after all these centuries as our role model. Face it, you and I aren’t Jesus. And we aren’t Mary. We sin. We make mistakes. We fail to live up to our potential as Christians and as human beings…..just like Joseph.
Remember a few years ago the kids were wearing bracelets that said WWJD? What would Jesus do. In real life, what Jesus would do might be too much for us. We can’t walk on water. We can’t turn water into wine. We aren’t free from sin. Maybe a better question would be “What would Joseph do?”
It might be hard to follow in Joseph’s footsteps, but it IS doable for you and me. So, in the few days that remain before the big celebration, maybe you can keep Joseph in mind. When there’s a decision to be made, ask him what you should do. I have a feeling you’ll get a pretty good answer.