This Christmas I noticed something about the Nativity that had escaped me for 26 previous Christmases: Joseph is not having a merry time. It started by falling in love with an Orthodox icon of the Nativity. Everything is going on. The kings are riding in on horses; the shepherds are sore afraid; the Holy Spirit is shooting down like a laser; a bath/baptism is being prepared; Mary is reclining on a rock like a lioness. And Joseph is being super mopey in the corner.
Joseph is so often praised as being a loving father or steady worker, so a sad Joseph feels uncomfortable, especially in an otherwise celebratory image. I read that in the icon with a man speaking to Joseph, the man is Satan, telling Joseph not to believe in the Virgin Birth. But it is not just this icon. My Nativity set has a despondent Joseph as well. He seems so out of place, and yet a sad Joseph really adds depth to the Nativity story. Earlier, Joseph had been ready to divorce Mary. And just because he listened to the angel doesn’t mean he was suddenly 100% on board. This sad Joseph still has doubts. What is the Incarnation? How can a virgin give birth? The whole thing bristles against our senses. He is obedient, but hesitantly obedient. He will take care of Mary and Jesus, but he is still riddled with doubts and worries.
That’s how most people’s faiths are. We are not 100% on board. We don’t always believe it all, nor do we want to do the things we are called to do. I’m not a king crossing a desert. I’m not a shepherd joyfully composing. I’m not Mary, at the epicenter of faithfulness. I’m a mopey Joseph in the corner, doing my best amidst distraction and doubt. My “yes” is less “fiat” and more “oh alright.” The Incarnation is mystical and wonderful and the best thing in the history of the universe. But it’s also incomprehensible and scary and confusing. It means something, which means it’s going to knock us out of our comfort and complacency. The rules are changing. The world is turning upside down. It’s cause for celebration and concern. So I got you, Joseph. Go ahead and gloom up Christmas.