The wonder of Christmas is upon us, with twinkling lights and frosted windowpanes. And with glistening swags and festive wreaths. And with sacred psalms and cherished carols. And with quarts of eggnog and bottles of spirits.
In Search of Christmas - Part 1: The Tale of Sleepy Joseph
Accompanying music: Coventry Carol (Traditional, 16th century)
Each year I find myself searching for that elusive thing which truly symbolizes the key element embedded within the whole notion of "Christmas." That very nearly invisible thing which puts the merry in Christmas. That seemingly intangible thing which eludes me each time Christmas Eve rolls around. Leaving me forever searching, searching, searching...
No, I don't mean searching for "the true meaning of Christmas" or anything like that. I mean forever searching for the eggnog bowl and the little sipping glasses! I swear, every year I tear the house apart looking for them!!
But once they're found and after I've sampled a glass or two, and I've settled into my easy chair, and my Boston Terrier, Lucy, has settled into her easy chair with a glass of eggnog as well, my mind does come 'round to considering "the true meaning of Christmas."
Well, maybe not the true meaning of Christmas, but rather, the true story of Christmas. Did it really happen just like how we've been told -- with the Virgin birth, and the star of Bethlehem, and the angel Gabriel, and the shepherds watching over their flocks at night, and the Wise Men with their gifts?
So, to the New Testament we go, to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to see what each has to say about the blessed birth. Interestingly, Mark and John have nothing whatsoever to say about the birth of Jesus -- each jumping ahead to Jesus at age 30, being baptized by John the Baptist at the River Jordan. Luke, meanwhile, has plenty to say, but we will save that retelling for Part 2 of this Christmas series.
Which leaves us with St. Matthew, the former tax collector turned apostle who wrote the first book of the New Testament.
Matthew's first two chapters concern the birth of Jesus, with the first half of the first chapter presenting his lineage, from "Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob" etc, etc, all the way to "...Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ."
Which brings us to Joseph, the obedient husband, "a just man" according to Matthew, who stood by Mary during her immaculate pregnancy, and who "knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son." Quite a guy.
Little is known of Joseph. According to Matthew he was the son of Jacob. He was a carpenter. He was the husband of Mary (perhaps his second marriage, hinting that he may have been a widower). He was the surrogate father of Jesus. In fact, he even named Jesus (Matthew 1:25). And he was most likely deceased by the time Jesus began his ministry, for he is not mentioned in the Gospels at that point in Christ's life.
Very little is written about Joseph. But what is written about him in the first two chapters of Matthew lead us to believe one thing about him ... he was certainly a sleepy fellow!
In those two brief chapters Joseph is found asleep four times. Four! And each time he is awoken with vivid, life-altering dreams which must have left poor Mary scratching her head and saying, "What's my husband up to now?!"
Let's look to Matthew for the proof:
Snooze #1 (while napping in Nazareth)
"...the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 1:20) "Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife." (Matthew 1:24)
Snooze #2 (while napping in Bethlehem)
"...the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word : for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt." (Matthew 2:13-14)
Snooze #3 (while napping in Egypt)
"...behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young boy and his mother, and go into the land of Israel : for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel." (Matthew 2:19-21)
Snooze #4 (while napping somewhere along the road heading back into Israel)
"But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither : notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee." (Matthew 2:22)
Bonus Snooze (at Bethlehem)
Interestingly, it is the Gospel of St. Matthew which makes mention of the Wise Men who follow the holy star to worship the babe in the manger, and to present "unto him gifts ; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." (Matthew 2:11). It is also of interest to note that afterwards the wise men fell sleep and "being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." (Matthew 2:12)
Those were certainly some sleepy times!
Next time we'll examine the Christmas story according to the Gospel of St. Luke, in which we are told: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." (Luke 2:1) Two thousand years later and it seems nothing has changed!!
Until then, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good ... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz........