Today’s Gospel gives us Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, in which Joseph is the central character. Joseph discovers Mary is with child, and not by his doing. Because he was “a righteous man,” he was “unwilling to expose her to shame,” and thus decided to quietly divorce her. However, before he can effectuate his intent, an angel appears to him and tells him a strange tale: Mary was not an adulteress. Rather, her pregnancy was through the power of God. Thus, says the angel, take your wife into your home and raise her son with her.
How many people, hearing such a tale, would attribute it to imagination, or to a badly digested dinner interfering with our sleep? How many would have believed that Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of sin? And would have been willing to endure the snickers of the other young men in town at taking Mary into his home?
But Joseph was a man of strong faith, tremendous faith. He believed in God’s plan and so cooperates in it. He takes Mary in, and not unwillingly, but with love, allowing Jesus to be born into a family environment. He trusted God and worked to see God’s plan fulfilled. He cares for and protects Mary and the newborn Jesus, who he sees as his own son.
Generally, our attention during Advent is on Jesus and on Mary, who played such a prominent role by her yes. But Joseph is one of the unsung heroes of Advent. Joseph was a necessary part of God’s plan and cooperated with God in the task of Jesus’ incarnation and growth. He doesn’t get central billing, but he provided protection for Mary and Jesus and provided Jesus with the love, the support, the encouragement, the training necessary for Jesus to be able to begin his public ministry.
Joseph inspires us to think about the unsung heroes in our own lives. Each of us has one or more Josephs in our lives – the people who stand off to the side, who themselves never take center stage, but who provide us with the support and the encouragement we need to do all that we do. People who rarely are recognized publicly, but whose absence would throw everything off. Let today be a day to give thanks for the presence of those persons in our lives.