This week we look at the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, as it were, the early years. We learn about the early years from what is called the Infancy Gospel of James. This is one of the gospels not found in the Bible. We will start with Mary. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, Joachim and Anna (Mary’s parents) were also elderly and childless.
Both Anna and Joachim were visited by an angel telling them that God had heard their prayers and they would not be childless. They rejoiced in the news that their “shame” (being childless) was removed. When Mary was born, she stayed with them until she was three years old. They had promised her to God, so when she was three years old, they brought her to the Temple and left her there. When she was twelve years old, the priests in the temple asked what they should do with her and they prayed and received this answer. “Gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord points out with a sign, she will be his wife.” The widowers came to the temple as they were asked with their staffs. The priest took the staffs and prayed over them and then gave them back. Out of the staff in Joseph’s hand came a dove and stood on Joseph’s head. The priests rejoiced in the fact that God had shown them the one who would be the husband of Mary.
At first Joseph was both surprised and reluctant, saying: “I have sons and am old, while she is young.” But the priests encouraged him to do what God had asked of him and so he did. At that point, they were betrothed to each other, but not living together. This is when the Angel visits Mary and tells her that she will become the Mother of God. She then goes and visits Elizabeth. I will talk about this next week.
Now, let us look at Joseph. When Mary came home from visiting Elizabeth, Joseph realized that she was pregnant and quite naturally got shook up. He was in a quandary about what to do. He knew what the law would say – stone her to death. But his love for her was intense and he did not want to see that happen. That night, in a dream, an angel reassured Joseph that all was well and it was God’s plan. So, he took her, loved her and protected her. Quite naturally, this got around town, people talked and pointed fingers at both of them. They were forced to go to the priests of the temple for judgment; they took the test to see if they were innocent. They passed the test which surprised the priests. It was then that the priests saw the hand of God in this situation and would not judge them as sinners.
Joseph, like Mary, was chosen to be the husband of Mary and protector of Jesus, the Son of God. No spoken word of his is recorded in Scripture. We assume that he was deceased at the time of Jesus’ public ministry because there is no mention of him at the wedding feast of Cana. In older nativity scenes Joseph always had grey hair – to indicate that he was much older than Mary. The newer ones have Joseph with dark hair, putting him much closer to her age.
Even after marriage and the birth of Jesus, Mary remained a virgin. You read in the Bible of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, but when the Bible was written, no matter what relative you were, you were called “brother and sister”. They thought in term of clans; and not on an individual basis as we do today.
What Mary and Joseph teach us, is their great love for each other and their love of God, which grounded them in difficult times, helping to weather the storms of people opinions. We see in Joseph, a man of God, who was willing to protect Mary and her son, Jesus, no matter what. We see this in how he still took Mary to be his wife and how he protected both of them in the flight to Egypt. How he provided them a home not only in Egypt, but also upon their return to Nazareth. Joseph along with Mary, had a hand in raising Jesus in the Jewish faith. Joseph also taught Jesus the carpenter trade. Without any recorded words Joseph still continues to teach us how to live and to love.
Let us the continue to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.