Putting St. Joseph Back in Christmas

Here’s a story about St. Joseph, the hidden man of Christmas, on Slate.com.  What does his story have to say to modern-day believers?  Plenty.  For this story I interviewed both Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at Notre Dame, and Pheme Perkins professor of New Testament at Boston College.

Advertisement

--Perkins and Cunningham both see Joseph as a central figure in the Nativity story, one who can speak to contemporary men and women. The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that he is a "righteous man" who does what God asks of him. After discovering Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph thinks of "quietly" ending their marriage plans, so as not to "disgrace" her. But an angel reassures him in a dream. "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife," says the angel, who explains the unusual circumstances of the birth. Joseph’s "righteousness" enables him to listen to God and carry out his difficult task.

His personality shines through wordlessly. "Here is a model of someone who represents all the virtues in the Hebrew Bible," says Perkins. "He is asked to do something shocking, but because he’s righteous, he follows God’s guidance. And it’s no fun--not only to deal with that, but with the rest of the story--the flight into Egypt, too."

During that latter part of the Christmas story, when the holy family flees from the murderous King Herod, Joseph was responsible for protecting Mary and her son in extreme conditions. Moreover, says Perkins, "To have to take your family into Egypt--that’s not a direction that Jewish stories want to go. It’s the wrong way." She calls him a "model for how people can follow God through difficult times."

Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at this "model" and restore him to his rightful place in the Christmas story. Remember his natural age. Reimagine him in our art. And recall his very human example of "following God through difficult times." That’s something that can offer encouragement not only to fathers but to every believer.--

James Martin, SJ

(Photo of Oscar Isaac at St. Joseph in "The Nativity Story")

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 10 months ago
To my mind, the most recognizable quality of St. Joseph is that he did what was expected of him, without a lot of confab. Typical man, you might say.
8 years 9 months ago
I've long cherished this quote bout Joseph from the Jesuit Alfred Delp: Joseph is the man on the outskirts, standing in the shadows, silently waiting, there when wanted and always ready to help. He is the man in whose life God is constantly intervening with warnings and visions. Without complaint he allows his own plans to be set aside. . . . Willing, unquestioning service is the secret of his life. It is his message for us and his judgment of us. We have crabbed and confined God within the pitiable limits of our obstinacy, our complacency, our mania for ‘self-expression.’ We have given God only the minimum of recognition. . . . Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., The Prison Meditations

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017
Forensic police work on the main road in Bidnija, Malta, which leads to Daphne Caruana Galizias house, looking for evidence on the blast that killed the journalist as she was leaving her home, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Caruana Galizia, a harsh critic of Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat, and who reported extensively on corruption on Malta, was killed by a car bomb on Monday. (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)
Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence from the Pope.