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March 19: Feast of St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary

Local News: On March 27, 28, 29, Belhaven University will be presenting its Spring Dance Productions at the Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center Studio Theatre. "A Time for Ballet" will be held on Thursday, March 27 at 11 a.m., Friday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 29 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. General admission to the performance is $10; the cost is $5 for Seniors and non-Belhaven students. To learn more, click here.

In years past, the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, was a date on the Church calendar that wasn’t all that meaningful to this examiner. It was sort of refreshing to see Joseph get his due, since most of the attention at Christmas time (understandably) seems more focused on Christ and the Virgin Mary. Beyond that, this day didn’t resonate much. Now I have a daughter who, ever since the Advent season, has been super excited about Mary, Baby Jesus, and “Jofes”, and because of that, the Feast of St. Joseph takes on a whole new dimension.

1. Who was Joseph?

We know from the genealogy given in the book of Matthew that Joseph’s father was the named Jacob (just as the patriarch Joseph was the son of the patriarch Jacob in the Old Testament). We know that Joseph was a descendant of David, which is why he was required to travel to Bethlehem to register when Caesar Augustus issued the worldwide tax that we read about in Luke 2.

We know that Joseph was a carpenter, and that he and Mary were extremely poor. When presenting Jesus in the temple, they offered what the Mosaic Law allowed the poorest of the poor to bring, those who couldn’t afford a lamb. We know that Joseph likely died before Jesus began his earthly ministry, as no mention is made of Joseph in the gospels beyond the childhood of Jesus. These are all external facts, though. Is there anything we can know about Joseph as a person, what his heart was like?

2. What can we learn from the life of Joseph?

The clearest portrait is given to us in Matthew 1 and 2. We are told that Joseph, when hearing that his fiancée has become pregnant, loved Mary too much to expose her to public shame, but intended to divorce her “quietly”. Many men, in Joseph’s predicament, would’ve taken full advantage of the opportunity to shame their fiancée. Under Old Testament Law, a betrothed woman, proven to be unfaithful to her husband, was subject to the death penalty. Joseph was kindhearted, though.

An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary is pregnant, not because she’s been unfaithful to Joseph or been committing fornication. Rather, the Holy Spirit has supernaturally enabled her, as a Virgin, to conceive a child. The angel tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife and to name her child Jesus (which means “Yahweh saves”) because he will be the Savior, the long awaited Messiah. Joseph obeys the angel’s orders, takes Mary as his wife and acts as Jesus’ earthly father.

When Jesus’ life is in danger, an angel again appears to Joseph, warning him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. When Herod, who wanted to kill Jesus, dies, an angel tells Joseph it is safe to return to the land of Israel. Throughout all of these stories, we see Joseph as someone who unhesitatingly obeyed whatever God called him to do, however inconvenient or uncomfortable it might be.

3. Conclusion

Today, as we remember St. Joseph and the role he played in the life of Jesus, let us be thankful that he, like the Virgin Mary, were willing to be servants of God even when it was costly. Let us be thankful that families today have an example in the holy family of what godliness looks like. Let us be thankful for men today who, like Joseph, are willing to put the needs of their wives and children ahead of their own needs. May God make me, who still has far to go, such a man.

"O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 239

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