The Seventeenth Day of Advent
December 17, 2019
I have been thinking throughout this Advent season about my place at the stable. On the idea that many people gathered around the stable took various positions — some in the front or at the back, some directly facing the manger, some viewing the Child from a point farther away, angels hovering above — I wonder where my place might have been or, more importantly, where do I stand around the stable today?
Joseph, it seems, is often seen standing at the back of the stable, non- obtrusive, taking a back seat to Mary and the Christ Child. Ann Weems writes about Joseph standing at the back of the stable:
GETTING TO THE FRONT OF THE STABLE
Who put Joseph in the back of the stable?
Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand,
and told him to stand in the back of the crèche,
background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?
God-chosen, this man, Joseph, was faithful
in spite of the gossip in Nazareth,
in spite of the danger from Herod.
This man, Joseph, listened to angels
and it was he who named the Child
Is this a man to be stuck for centuries
in the back of a stable?
Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway
guarding the mother and child
or greeting shepherds and kings. . .
Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms
and walked him in the night,
patting him lovingly
until he closed his eyes.
This Christmas, let us give thanks to God
for this man of incredible faith
into whose care God placed
the Christ Child.
As a gesture of gratitude,
let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable
where he can guard and greet
and cast an occasional glance
at this Child
who brought us life.
— Ann Weems
Not much more can be said about Joseph’s place at the stable, for indeed, he was the man chosen by God to be the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph managed his own emotions about Mary’s extraordinary and unexpected pregnancy with the help of an angel. He moved beyond his fears, his bewilderment, his concerns, perhaps even his mistrust or anger towards Mary and, certainly, his shattered reputation and his need to maintain his morality and his righteousness.
After pondering the angel’s visit, and his options, a slightly confused Joseph took a God-risk and moved into that bewildering relationship. He did it with courage and because of his trust in God’s word brought by an angel. And then he embraced his relationship with Mary, took her to Bethlehem, created a sheltering place, attended the birth of the Infant Christ and waited by faith for another angel message, or a star, or whatever else might burst into their lives.
Joseph’s story is a bit like ours — our stories of bewilderment, confusion, reluctance and, finally, our holy resolve to accept God’s plan for our lives and follow the journey God lays before us. And isn’t that a picture of Advent’s journey? Where is our place at the stable?Don’t we need to find our place near the Child this Advent and for all Advents to come? Doesn’t this season lead us steadily through the sacred path that leads us to the holy Child of Bethlehem . . .
So that we can, once again, experience the joy of his birth?
So that we can feel more deeply the emotions of Mary and Joseph?
So that we can, once again, hear angel voices?
So that Bethlehem’s star seems so near that we can almost touch it?
And so that our destinies will be fulfilled and our lives will be highly favored by God?
For all of these graces of Advent,
thanks be to God. Amen.