During the holy days of the Nativity Fast, as we prepare ourselves to receive the Word Incarnate, we tend to focus on the Baby Jesus and His blessed mother Virgin Mary. We sing praises to our Lord Jesus Christ and we venerate St. Mary as we chant the Kioahk Praises.
In the churches, replicas of mangers are up and the icons of the Nativity and the Holy Family take center places. In all this festivity, we tend to overlook the role of a very important member of the Holy Family during these events, St. Joseph the carpenter.
Born in Bethlehem of Judea, St. Joseph came from the royal lineage of King David. Both St. Luke and St. Matthew mark his descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). The Scriptures do not tell us why or when originally St. Joseph left Bethlehem and chose Nazareth to be his place of residence, but it tells us that he was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55).
According to tradition, when St. Mary, who was dedicated to the temple, completed twelve years in the sanctuary and could not stay there any longer, the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Judah a respectable man, to espouse her. St. Joseph was among the candidates. A miracle revealed the choice of St. Joseph God had made. When the priests gathered twelve righteous men from the tribe of Judah and took their staffs inside the sanctuary, a dove flew up and stood on the staff belonging to St. Joseph. They immediately knew that this was God’s will. The righteous St. Joseph took St. Mary to his house. Both spouses intended for this betrothal to be virginal marriage.
When St. Joseph discovered St. Mary was pregnant, he knew the child was not his. St. Joseph knew that a woman accused of adultery could be stoned to death. Being a compassionate man, full of love he did not want to defame her for "Love covers all sins" (Proverbs 10:12). Being sensible and discreet he did not show annoyance nor behaved in anger but behaved with prudence "A fool’s wrath is known at once, But a prudent man covers shame" (Proverbs 12:16) and decided to put her away secretly (Matthew 1:18,19).
"But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…" Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife." (Matthew 1:20-24) St. Joseph did not doubt the angel of the Lord but in full faith accepted his words and kept St. Mary with him.
A few months later, Caesar Augustus issued a decree ordering the entire world to be registered everyone in his own city. For St. Joseph and St. Mary, this meant to travel from Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea. Upon their arrival in Bethlehem "the days were completed for her to be delivered …." and "there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:1-7). St. Joseph was there with St. Mary at the birth of our Lord. He was there when the shepherds came to greet the Newborn. He witnessed the wise men offering gifts to the Child. He took full responsibility of the Mother and Child.
St. Joseph was a modest man not with great means for when the time came to present the Child Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24). He was present at the temple, saw Simeon the elder carry the Child and prophesy about Him. Both St. Joseph and St. Mary marveled at those things spoken of the Lord and they both received Simeon blessings.
St. Joseph was man of faith, obedient to God in everyway. When the angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him" (Matthew 2:13). He did not hesitate but immediately left everything he owned, all his relatives and friends, and fled to Egypt, a strange country. He took full responsibility of the Child although he is not His real father. It did not occur to him that his own life and the life of St. Mary were not in danger, but only the Child. He could have resented this move but he did not. In all obedience he went to Egypt and waited there submissively until the angel of the Lord told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23).
Upon their return from Egypt, the Holy Family settled again at Nazareth. St. Joseph supported himself and his family by his work. We do not know many details about their life in Nazareth except that they faithfully followed the religious practices commanded by the Law. Being a pious man St. Joseph traveled with his family each year to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, "His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover" (Luke 2:41).
St. Joseph raised the Lord Jesus, loved Him and cared for His safety. St. Matthew records an incident that took place when our Lord Jesus Christ was twelve years old. On their way home to Nazareth after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, St. Joseph and St. Mary discovered the absence of the Lord Jesus from among the company. Anxious for His safety they immediately returned to Jerusalem to look for Him. Three days had passed until they found Him sitting among the teachers at the temple listening to them and asking them questions. St. Joseph definitely treated the Lord Jesus as his own son; For the people of Nazareth had said of the Lord, "Is this not the son of Joseph" (Luke 4:22).
This incident of the Passover is the last account mentioning St. Joseph in the Holy Gospels. Tradition tells us that St. Joseph had died before Jesus entered public ministry. Our Lord was about sixteen years of age when His foster father St. Joseph departed. The Lord Christ was present at his departure, and laid His hand upon his eyes. St. Joseph extended his arms and delivered up his soul. He was buried in the tomb of his father Jacob. All the days of his life were one hundred and eleven years. His departure was on the twenty-sixth day of the month of Epep.
May the blessings of the righteous saint be with us all Amen.