Monday, December 8, 2014

St. Joseph of the Incarnation

"St. Joseph and the Christ Child"  +Guido Reni

God's sneaky-awesome presence among us begins with the anxious expectations of Advent.  It culminates in the contemplative season of Christmas:  The divine Author, Producer and Director of the drama of human history enters the stage that he himself created as a seemingly insignificant actor--in diapers and swaddling clothes. 

From the start, St. Joseph was there with the marvelous Mother of God, who "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2: 19).  The Scriptures do not share a single word spoken by Joseph, of course, but they invite us to enter into his silent reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation:  What was Joseph thinking and feeling as the Holy Family journeyed through Mary's pregnancy?  What awe filled his heart as he pondered the arrival of the divine Messiah?
Before any of the Apostles or Evangelists or Doctors of the Church, it was humble Joseph who stood beside the Blessed Mother and contemplated the reality of God with us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church articulates four reasons why the Word became flesh (nn. 457-460); can't you picture Joseph discussing God's mysterious ways with his beloved Mary?
  • "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God" (CCC, n. 457).  Joseph knew that God's covenant with his chosen people was ultimately a promise of divine assistance in response to original sin.  He also knew that the promised salvation would be connected to the blood of the Passover lamb, and that the Messiah would deliver the definitive victory over slavery and death.  As he rocked baby Jesus to sleep, can't you imagine Joseph's heart quietly murmuring: "Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29)?!
  • "The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God's love" (CCC, n. 458).  Joseph knew that God’s covenantal love was a gift.  The great commandment, "You shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength" (Dt 6:8), was a free response to God's gratuitous love for his people.  As he adoringly watched Mary nurse the newborn child, can't you see Joseph's mind racing to connect the dots in this amazing picture: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…" (Jn 3:16)?!
  • "The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness" (CCC, n. 459).  Though he was a righteous man, Joseph was humble enough to admit that he could not keep God's Law in perfect fidelity.  (Although it seemed somehow different for his wonderful wife!)  Moses and the prophets were themselves imperfect, though heroic, witnesses to the holiness Yahweh desired of his people.  As he tended to the fire, can't you hear Joseph whispering words about his Son: Here is "...the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6)?!
  • "The Word became flesh to make us 'partakers of the divine nature'" (CCC, n. 460).  In the Garden of Eden, the man and woman walked in friendship with the Lord.  The Tempter's taunt, "You will become like gods," was the lie of lies.  It preyed on human pride, obscuring  the fact that the intimacy of Eden was always already a partaking in the divine life.  Joseph sensed that the divine revelation in Jesus would restore God's original plan.  The love that filled Joseph's heart when he kissed baby Jesus hinted at these most beautiful words which his Son would later speak: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14: 23).
Joseph invites us to look at the Incarnation anew and to say with our Lady, "May it be done to me according to your word.”  Indeed, St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary stand as first and greatest witnesses to the Word made flesh.  And this Jesus, the Incarnate Word, invites each of us into the very the center of God's Trinitarian love.

Come, thou long expected Jesus!

P.S.  The link on the song title above provides a powerful three-minute meditation on the Incarnation within God's plan of salvation history :)