Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Revelation to Joseph
Volume 5 No. 318 December 11, 2015
II. This Week's Featured Articles

St. Joseph's Doubt And The Angel's Gift

by Carl E. Olson

A Scriptural Reflection on Matthew 1:18-24

"Looking on thee, O Unwedded One,
and dreading a hidden wedlock, O Sinless One,
the chaste Joseph was riven in mind with a storm of doubts…"

That is how the anxious state of Joseph was poetically described by the unknown author of the great Akathist hymn (c. 6th century) to the blessed Virgin Mary as he considered what to do with his young and pregnant betrothed. Joseph, following the usual Jewish practice, had been covenanted to Mary; their betrothal was, for all intents and purposes, as legally binding as marriage. According to Jewish law, this meant the betrothal could only end in one of two ways: divorce or death (Deut. 24:1-4).

Although devotion to St. Joseph has grown tremendously in recent centuries, it is still easy to overlook both the tremendous decisions he faced and the great character he demonstrated in making those decisions. Today's reading from the Gospel of Matthew describes Joseph as a "righteous man". This is not some vague reference to Joseph simply being a nice guy, but is a direct recognition of his whole-hearted commitment to the Law. "And it will be righteousness for us," said the Hebrews at Mount Sinai, upon being given the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, "if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us" (Deut. 6:25). Joseph was careful to follow the commandments; he desired to love and serve God completely.

Yet he was faced with a gut-wrenching, scandalous situation: a young bride who was already pregnant. However, Joseph was "unwilling to expose Mary to shame" and had decided to divorce her - or, better translated, "to send her away quietly". Some of the Church fathers and doctors believed that Joseph had suspected Mary of adultery. Others thought he had withheld moral judgment, being genuinely perplexed by the strange situation. And some, including St. Thomas Aquinas, believed Joseph knew of the miraculous nature of Mary's pregnancy from the start, and had sought to separate himself from her because of a deep sense of unworthiness.

So we don't know what Joseph knew prior to the angel of the Lord appearing to him. Rather remarkably, we also don't know what Joseph may have said, simply because not one word that he uttered is recorded! But we do learn some important things from the words of the angel, as well as from Joseph's actions.

The angel provided Joseph with three essential gifts and truths. First, the divine messenger granted him the gift of peace: "Do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home." The coming of the Lord is always a gift of peace to those who love and serve him.

Secondly, he told Joseph there was a divine plan in place: Mary will give birth to Jesus - which means "Yahweh saves" - who will save his people from sin. Joseph would surely have recognized this as a description of the long-awaited Messiah.

Finally, the angel provided the prophetic background to this stunning event, the passage from Isaiah 7. This would have further reinforced the reality of the divine plan.

Joseph, in turn, did three things.

  • He thought, first and foremost, about Mary and her wellbeing. He acted justly, without concern for himself, even though he had every legal right to be upset. A good husband puts the needs and reputation of his wife before his own.
  • Secondly, he placed his trust and hope in God's promise. Although we never hear any words from Joseph, we are told of his actions. A godly man walks the talk, but with a minimum of talk!
  • Third, Joseph embraced the daunting task of being the foster father of the Son of God. Why? Because he trusted in God despite the strangeness of the situation.

And what is the conclusion of the verse of the Akathist hymn quoted above? "…but learning that your conception was of the Holy Spirit, he cried out: ‘Alleluia!'" Alleluia, indeed!

Source: Insight Scoop; Originally appeared in the Our Sunday Visitor newspaper

Joseph, The Righteous Man of God
Gospel: Mt 1: 18-24

This Sunday offers us a very human insight into an important figure that played a significant role in the birth of Jesus and beyond – Joseph, the husband of Mary.

Joseph is silent throughout the Gospels so whatever he may have thought we can only speculate. Yet, we can probably assume that what he felt when the news of Mary's unexpected pregnancy was made known to him, how we don't know, his reaction surely was what any intended spouse would have felt – disappointment and confusion. Who was the man that Mary had relations with? Why would she have done such a thing as she was betrothed to him?

Betrothal in ancient times was the final step before marriage. The couple did not yet live together as husband and wife but the betrothal contract could only be broken through a legal contract. Whether the couple loved each other or not was less important that the financial arrangements between each of their families were worked out in an equitable manner. However, whether a projection of modern expectations or pious sentimentality, Joseph was presumed to have feelings for Mary and their upcoming wedding was something both were anticipating with joy.

Nonetheless, our Gospel this Sunday offers a description of Joseph that is admirable – that he was a "righteous man." Joseph was an upright Jew, faithful to the sacred law and lived by that law in good example. So we read of his reaction to Mary's pregnancy:". . . Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly . . ."

According to the law of their time, Mary was subject to public ridicule and shame or even worse and it was Joseph's responsibility to inform her father that his daughter was pregnant by some other man. Joseph, because of his obvious respect for Mary, intended to do his best to hush this up quickly so that whoever is the father of Mary's child may be free to come along and take Mary to be his wife.

In the midst of this human dilemma, God steps in. And the Gospel tells us of the Angel Gabriel's visit to Joseph in a dream. "Have no fear . . ." the angel assures Joseph. In other words, God asks a mighty thing of Joseph – to take this child which is not his own flesh and blood and the child's mother into his home to care for them and to unite with Mary as her husband. Mary has conceived in a mysterious way, by the Holy Spirit's intervention. God has a plan far beyond what Joseph had expected.

Our first reading from Isaiah the prophet speaks of the perfect King of Israel who would finally come. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign from God but God is not stopped. The virgin will conceive and bear a son whose name would be "Emmanuel" - God with us. This foreshadowing of Mary's conception and the child she would bear is where Joseph is positioned to now step in as the earthly protector and provider of this Holy Family, as we call them. When you stop for a moment and reflect on Joseph's role here and all that Israel had hoped for over hundreds of years, it is tough to get one's mind around this whole mystery.

So, with Christmas right around the corner it may indeed beg us to look beyond the sweetness of Christmas. The lights, trees, cards, manger scenes, beautiful sacred music, cute songs like "Santa Baby" or the very weird "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" and good cheer are all a wonderful part of this time and season.

While the strain between secular and sacred challenges our Christian sensibility the real mystery is profound. Mary and Joseph were not pastel colored holy cards, stiff plaster statues, or bright stained glass images. They were flesh and blood human beings whose lives were profoundly affected by God's intervention in human history. It was and always will be all about Jesus. Mary and Joseph stand as examples of cooperation with God.

While God asks far less of us than he did of Joseph and Mary, he asks nonetheless. In our second reading from Romans, Paul speaks of himself as the "slave" of Christ Jesus. Paul knew that his entire life was to be "set apart for the gospel of God . . ."

How far am I willing to go when I sense that God is asking something of me? How will I know? In a dream – perhaps but maybe not. What or who might be the sign of God's presence in my life? What part of me still needs to embrace the gospel of God?

Joseph, courageous and faith filled righteous man of God, pray for us.

Pour forth, we beseech you O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,

May by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Why Did God Wait To Tell Joseph?

by Father Gary

We are all familiar with the story: an angel appears to the Virgin Mary, requesting her permission to receive the Son of God within her. It is indeed the most awesome moment of human history! Mary is troubled by the greeting of the angel. She quickly ponders some of the implications of what she has just heard. She's going to have a child and the child will be the son of God.

Perhaps, as she pondered, Mary asked questions like this: "What about Joseph? Who will tell Joseph? What will I say to Joseph? Will he believe me?" I find it intriguing that the angel Gabriel does not immediately go to Joseph to explain the situation after Mary says yes. And yet, the angel seems to wait until a full-blown crisis has developed, doesn't he? It would have been so much easier on both of them if he had just come to Joseph right after Mary said yes. Why did he wait?

It was only after she was found to be with child. In fact, God does not intervene in this troubling situation until Joseph is driven to the point of planning divorce papers for Mary! It seems so unnecessary when God could've dealt with this right away - and yet he didn't. To me, the real question in this very interesting detail is why does God wait so long to answer some prayers? He does, in fact, sometimes seem to wait until a real crisis has occurred before he acts.

We see this same pattern happening over and over again in the Gospels and in our lives. God could've made it easier for St. Joseph, but he didn't. Therefore he must've had a good reason for waiting to make his will clear to St. Joseph. Sometimes, we too wonder why God doesn't make things clear right away. After all, God has all the answers – why doesn't he share them with us?

Well, he has shared the most important answers - that we are to always trust in God, that we are to strive to do God's will, that we are to believe in him no matter what happens. The stories in Scripture are the stories of our lives as well. How often God has a plan for us like he did for Mary and Joseph, but we have to struggle to see it. Our journey of faith glorifies God.

Sometimes we forget that the whole point of being on earth is that we can't see God right away, that we have to grow in faith and discernment by struggling with the issues in our lives. This is exactly what Joseph did before God revealed things. The struggle was part of Joseph's journey too, just as it is with ours.

Source: Pastor's Column

Let's Stop Ignoring Joseph at Christmas

by Dr. Russell Moore

I played a cow in my first-grade Christmas pageant, and I had more lines than the kid who played Joseph. He was a prop, or so it seemed, for Mary, the plastic doll in the manger, and the rest of us. We were just following the script. There's rarely much room in the inn of the contemporary Christian imagination for Joseph, especially among conservative Protestants like me. His only role, it seems, is an usher - to get Mary to the stable in Bethlehem in the first place and then to get her back to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to find the wandering 12-year-old Jesus.

But there's much more to the Joseph figure.

Real Father

When we talk about Joseph at all, we spend most of our time talking about what he was not. We believe (rightly) with the apostles that Jesus was conceived in a virgin's womb. Joseph was not Jesus' biological father; not a trace of Joseph's sperm was involved in the formation of the embryo Christ. No amount of Joseph's DNA could be found in the dried blood of Jesus peeled from the wood of Golgotha's cross. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit completely apart from the will or exertion of any man.

That noted, though, we need to be careful that we don't reduce Joseph simply to a truthful first-century Bill Clinton: "He did not have sexual relations with that woman." There's much more to be said. Joseph is not Jesus' biological father, but he is his real father. In his adoption of Jesus, Joseph is rightly identified by the Spirit speaking through the Scriptures as Jesus' father (Luke 2:41, Luke 2:48).

Jesus would have said "Abba" first to Joseph. Jesus' obedience to his father and mother, obedience essential to his law-keeping on our behalf, is directed toward Joseph (Luke 2:51). Jesus does not share Joseph's bloodline, but he claims him as his father, obeying Joseph perfectly and even following in his vocation. When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, he cites the words of Deuteronomy to counter "the flaming darts of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16). Think about it for a moment - Jesus almost certainly learned those Hebrew Scriptures from Joseph as he listened to him at the woodworking table or stood beside him in the synagogue.

Difficult Deed

Our contemporary cartoonish, two-dimensional picture of Joseph too easily ignores how difficult it was for him to do what he did. Imagine for a minute that one of the teenagers in your church were to stand up behind the pulpit to give her testimony. She's eight months pregnant and unmarried. After a few minutes of talking about God's working in her life and about how excited she is to be a mother, she starts talking about how thankful she is that she's remained sexually pure, kept all the "True Love Waits" commitments she made in her youth group Bible study. You'd immediately conclude that the girl's either delusional or lying.

When contemporary biblical revisionists scoff at the virgin birth of Jesus and other miracles, they often tell us we're now beyond such "myths" since we live in a post-Enlightenment, scientifically progressive information age. What such critics miss is the fact that virgin conceptions have always seemed ridiculous. People in first-century Palestine knew how babies were conceived. The implausibility of the whole thing is evident in the biblical text itself. When Mary tells Joseph she is pregnant, his first reaction isn't a cheery "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." No, he assumes what any of us would conclude was going on, and he sets out to end their betrothal.

But then God enters the scene.

When God speaks in a dream to Joseph about the identity of Jesus, Joseph, like everyone else who follows Christ, recognizes the voice and goes forward (Matthew 1:21). Joseph's adoption and protection of Jesus is simply the outworking of that belief.

Same Faith

In believing God, Joseph probably walked away from his reputation. The wags in his hometown would probably always whisper about how "poor Joseph was hoodwinked by that girl" or how "old Joseph got himself in trouble with that girl." As the stakes grew higher, Joseph certainly sacrificed his economic security. In first-century Galilee, after all, one doesn't simply move to Egypt, the way one might today decide to move to New York or London. Joseph surrendered a household economy, a vocation probably built up over generations, handed down to him, one would suppose, by his father.

Again, Joseph was unique in one sense. None of us will ever be called to be father to God. But in another very real sense, Joseph's faith was exactly the same as ours. The letter of James, for instance, speaks of the definition of faith in this way: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27). James is the one who tells us further that faith is not mere intellectual belief, the faith of demons (James 2:19), but is instead a faith that works.

James shows us that Abraham's belief is seen in his offering up Isaac, knowing God would keep his promise and raise him from the dead (James 2:21). We know Rahab has faith not simply because she raises her hand in agreement with the Hebrew spies but because in hiding them from the enemy she is showing she trusts God to save her (James 2:25). James tells us that genuine faith shelters the orphan.

What gives even more weight to these words is the identity of the human author. This letter is written by James of the Jerusalem church, the brother of our Lord Jesus. How much of this "pure and undefiled religion" did James see first in the life of his own earthly father? Did the image of Joseph linger in James's mind as he inscribed the words of an orphan-protecting, living faith?

It's a shame that Joseph is so neglected in our thoughts and affections, even at Christmastime. If we pay attention to him, though, we just might see a model for a new generation of Christians. We might see how to live as the presence of Christ in a culture of death. We might see how to image a protective Father, how to preach a life-affirming gospel, even in a culture captivated by the spirit of Herod.

About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of 'The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective' (Crossway, 2004) and 'Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches' (Crossway, May 2009).

Intercessional Prayer to St. Joseph
O glorious Saint Joseph,
spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
just man, son of David,
whom the very Son of God did love, honour, and obey,
treating thee in all things as the most devoted son treats his father.

I promise and resolve, from this day forward,
to look to thee as to my own father,
to love thee, honour thee, and obey thee with filial devotion,
and to leave to thy paternal solicitude
all my needs, my anxieties, and my cares.

I am confident that thou wilt be to me a father,
and the best of fathers,
and that, under thy protection and in thy care,
I shall want for nothing.


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