The Scriptures tell us that St. Joseph was a righteous man. That means, first of all, that he shared the faith of father Abraham, and the faith of his father David. Not only a general sort of optimism or positive attitude, but confident trust in the Word and promises of God. He believed that, by the Seed of Abraham, God would bless the sons of Israel and all the nations of the world. And he believed that God, the Lord, would raise up the Seed of David to reign upon His throne forever; notwithstanding that David’s royal line had ceased and been replaced by the Herodian dynasty.
St. Joseph trusted, hope against hope, that the same Lord God who also raises the dead, who calls all things into being out of nothing, and who gave a promised son to Abraham and Sarah when his body and her womb were as good as dead, was in truth the God and Father of St. Mary’s Son; and that He, who was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, was the Savior of His people: Immanuel. St. Joseph had faith that it was so, because he believed what God had spoken to him.
By this righteousness of faith, St. Joseph was also humble and obedient, and faithful and just in his actions. In each of the several situations that Holy Scripture describes, whatever God told him to do, St. Joseph immediately set about doing exactly that. No arguments, no balking, no excuses, and no questions. Not a single word from St. Joseph is recorded. He simply and swiftly gets up and does what God calls him to do: He rises up in faith to serve his family in love.
The specifics of the case, the particular calling and circumstances in which St. Joseph was found, are certainly unique and extraordinary. The Church remembers and gives thanks for this particular man because of his special place in the life of our Lord Jesus. In this respect, by the grace and mercies of God, St. Joseph, his faith and life, and his works of love, were taken up into the Gospel itself; because God the Father chose to accomplish His purposes in this way, in giving us His Son.
But, then again, St. Joseph’s calling and circumstances were not so very different from those of any other husband and father; nor did he have anything else to go by than the Word of God. True, he did receive some special revelations, by the angel of the Lord in his dreams, concerning the specific situations he was in. So do you also receive the counsel and guidance of the messengers of the Lord within your own office and station in life. And yet, the underlying basics are simple and straightforward, for you as for St. Joseph; which is not to say easy or painless.
St. Joseph was called to care for his family, for his wife and her Child, who was legally his own. He was called to be a husband and a father, albeit under difficult and dangerous conditions, and under great duress. The challenges confronting him were daunting, and at times overwhelming. What man’s obligations and obstacles are not like that? But the Lord had told St. Joseph, the son of David, not to be afraid: Not to be afraid to take St. Mary as his wife, and, therefore, not to be afraid of everything else that would go along with being a husband to her and a father to her Son.
Whether or not he felt the emotion of fear at any given point along the way — and given that he was a sinful man of mortal flesh and blood, it is natural to suppose that he did — yet, St. Joseph was also a man of faith, a righteous man, who lived and worked and carried out his vocation faithfully in the fear, love, and trust of God. He persevered in the confidence of God’s promises.
And the Lord God was faithful, as ever and always, not only in caring for St. Joseph and providing for all his needs in the discharge of his duties, but also in caring for St. Mary and her Child, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, through the agency and means of this man, the carpenter from Nazareth.
Even more than the glorious King Solomon with his impressive Temple in Jerusalem, it is this son of David, St. Joseph, who is given the privilege and responsibility of making a house and a home for the Lord. It is a fitting task for a carpenter, if one thinks only of the wood and the nails. But more to the point, it is a father’s task. Of all the sons of David, it is only St. Joseph who becomes a daddy to the Son of God: Not by the procreation of his own flesh and blood, but by the Word and will of God the Father in heaven, and by deeds of faith and love as a father on earth: by taking the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary to be his wife, and by taking the legal responsibility for her Son.
So, think about what that means, for St. Joseph to be a father to Jesus on earth. It means that he takes care of Jesus, and provides for Him, and protects Him, as every dad should do for any of his children, whether begotten or adopted. It means, too, that St. Joseph teaches Jesus the Word of God, and how to pray, and takes Him to the synagogue and to the Temple, to worship the Lord; for so do the Holy Scriptures require of a father for his sons and daughters.
In its own way, this work of St. Joseph in being a father to Jesus is no less amazing, and no less important, than the fact that St. Mary became the Mother of God. The Church rightly marvels that the Lord of all, the Creator and Upholder of the universe, was conceived and born of a woman, and that He who feeds the entire world with daily bread depended on His Mother for nourishment. Such is the great Mystery of the Incarnation! But so does He also live and grow and learn and develop as true Man, and, throughout His boyhood years, St. Joseph was instrumental in all that.
When the Boy Jesus is twelve years old, it is St. Joseph who takes the Holy Family up to Jerusalem for the Passover. At that time, when Jesus has reached the age of maturity in Jewish tradition, there is a transition already at work, pulling Him away from His human parents to be about the work of His Father in heaven. Even then, He submits to them, and to their authority, in accordance with the Fourth Commandment; because they are, in legal fact, His father and His mother on earth.
All the more striking, in the Holy Gospel for this festival day, when the little Lord Jesus is but a Babe in arms, He is entirely passive throughout. He does not do or say anything, but is carried about and cared for by St. Mary and St. Joseph. For though He is the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made, He is also now a truly human Infant, and His life, as such, is like that of any other Baby in the world.
The Son of God humbled Himself to share the predicament of fallen man, but, even aside from the curse of sin and death, infants and toddlers are fully dependent on their parents, and so now is He. In this way, too, He lives as true Man — in the way that Man was created to live — by faith in His God and Father in heaven — by relying on the parents God has provided for Him, for everything.
He becomes true Man in every way, save only without any sins of His own, in order to save His people from their sins. He takes their place, not only to suffer the punishment of all their sins, but also to fulfill and satisfy the Law on their behalf. He thereby lives vicariously, for them, and for all people, including each and all of you, in the way that everyone is called to live, but everyone else has failed to do. He alone does it. So that is why He is taken into Egypt: Not simply to escape the murderous wrath of Herod, but to relive the time of Israel in Egypt, and then also the Exodus.
In all of this, He is actively the Savior of His people, and of all the nations of the world: from Babylon and Persia in the east, to Egypt in the west; from Bethlehem of Judea in the south, to Nazareth of Galilee in the north; from Jerusalem to Rome, and even to the ends of the earth. But His active obedience begins with the active passivity of quiet faith and trust in His God and Father.
From His Mother’s womb, to His crucifixion, death, and burial, the Lord Jesus is the Son of David after His Father’s heart. Certainly, He truly is the Man after God’s own heart; for He is the Son of God from all eternity, of one Substance with the Father, and His human heart and mind, soul and spirit, are always in complete and utter harmony and unity with the divine Will. So, too, in perfect faith, the Lord Jesus Christ walks in the ways of father David, that is, in the righteousness of David’s faith; although, of course, great David’s greater Son surpasses him, overcoming all temptations, and not committing any sins, but atoning for the sins of father David and all others.
But Jesus of Nazareth is also a Man after the faithful heart of His foster father, St. Joseph, and, in view of the Incarnation, that is not to be overlooked or taken lightly.
As St. Joseph is set before you, in the Holy Scriptures, and by the Church on this particular day, to serve as an example to you, to encourage you in faith and love, so was he also an example to the little Lord Jesus, as He was growing from infancy to manhood, increasing in wisdom and stature. That is no dishonor to Christ Jesus, our Savior, but a testimony to His faith and life as true Man, that He learned from St. Joseph, from that father’s catechesis in the home, and from the example of that righteous man’s holy faith and works of love.
Dare we say that, as true Man, growing up, the heavenly Bridegroom of the Church first observed and began to learn what it means to be a husband, in the faithful care of St. Joseph for St. Mary.
To be sure, the righteousness of faith that Jesus saw exemplified in St. Joseph, He Himself — and He alone — has fulfilled and completed to perfection: By His life of humble obedience; by His death upon the Cross, in faith toward God and in love for all mankind; and in His Resurrection from the dead, as the Firstfruits of the New Creation.
Not St. Joseph, nor St. Mary, nor any other creature in heaven or on earth could do these things, which Christ Jesus our Lord has done, for the salvation of the world, and for all the people of all times and places.
Whereas St. Joseph was given the privilege of giving the Child of St. Mary the blessed Name of “Jesus,” there is yet no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which anyone is saved. St. Joseph and St. Mary are instruments of God in giving us this precious Gift, but the Child Jesus has become our Strength and our Song, because He has become our Salvation.
Whereas St. Joseph was the carpenter, the husband and the dad, who made a house and home for the Child with His Mother here on earth, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Seed of David, who has become the true House of God in His own flesh and blood; whose crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God among men, in heaven and on earth, both now and forever and ever.
Whereas St. Joseph took care of his home and his family, as a good husband and father should do, the Lord Jesus is the new and greater Carpenter from Nazareth, who, by His innocent suffering and death, and in His Resurrection from the dead, has become the Cornerstone of His Church. By the washing of water with His Word, He has cleansed and sanctified His Church, and has taken her to be His holy Bride, adorned in His own perfect righteousness. By His Word and Holy Spirit, He conceives and gives birth in her to the children of God; He cares for them, feeds and shelters them, and provides for all their needs of body and soul, by the free gifts of His Gospel. Upon the Holy Ministry of that Gospel, as upon a solid Rock, He has built His Church to stand fast and strong; not only against the murderous wrath of mortal princes like Herod, but against the gates of hell.
The Lord called St. Joseph to care for the Child Jesus, with His Mother, and through St. Joseph God the Father Himself took care of that precious Holy Family. It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should give Him thanks and praise for this grace and mercy of His, and so also for His gift of St. Joseph himself. That righteous man of faith is a good example for all of us Christians, and for husbands and fathers, in particular. So, too, we should give thanks and pray for the husbands and fathers by whom the Lord God serves His people here on earth, in this poor life of labor.
In like manner has the same Lord called pastors to care for His Church with the Gospel, to be for her spiritual fathers of grace, mercy, and peace, and to shepherd her with the good gifts of Christ.
Therefore, do not be afraid: The Lord whose Father called Him out of Egypt, who called the Light out of the darkness, and who raises the dead — the Lord who tabernacled with St. Joseph wherever he went, even cradled in the arms of His Mother — He is no less with you in this place, to save you by His grace, by His forgiveness of all your sins, and to feed you with His Body and His Blood. As He has called you by His own great and holy Name, and as He has established this House for you, by His Gospel, on earth as it in heaven, so as a tender Father will He provide you with all that you need; and as your faithful Husband, He will never leave you nor forsake you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana