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Joseph reminds us that there’s a very human dilemma in the stories around the birth of Jesus: how could Mary be pregnant? It was a scandalous thing, perfect for the tabloids. The original story tells us…

Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 1:18-21, 24

It’s clear that Joseph just didn’t believe Mary’s explanation of how it happened: that an angel had called round and told her she would have a baby even though she was a virgin. It was only after his dream that he accepted Mary as his wife, although we’re not told if he had any big change of heart about it all. From the reading above, it sounds like he just did what he was told.

In the picture, we see Joseph with his back to Mary, listening to his doubts and fears. He cuts an isolated figure, right at the bottom of the picture, and he looks thoroughly fed up with the whole thing. He’s the person least likely to put up a Christmas tree, break open a box of crackers and start getting into the festive spirit.

And yet… despite his doubts, Joseph is given a big halo and has an important place in the whole picture. He would leave a big gap if he wasn’t there. Maybe the artist is telling us that doubt and finding it difficult to believe in God is part of the story and can be a valuable thing in itself. Doubt can help us get honest with God and with ourselves.

Prayer and reflection

Take a few minutes to become quiet at your computer. If it’s possible, light a candle or night-light.

Take a leaf out of the experience of Joseph, and think about your doubts. Or follow in the footsteps of the Psalms and complain to God. Voice the grievances you’re usually too spiritual to mention.

Don’t worry, God can take it.

Here’s part of a Psalm (Psalm 142) you might find helpful…

I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before him;
Before him I tell my trouble.

Finish by praying the prayer of Jesus…

Our Father in heaven,
Holy is your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth
As it is done in heaven.
Give us our bread for today
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom
the power and the glory
For evermore, amen.

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About this module

An Eastern icon of the Nativity introduces us to the main characters in the cast of Christmas: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and angels, and the wise men. With notes, short reflections and prayers for you to follow.

Categories: Spirituality, Art & image, Seasonal,


Module contents

arrow Introduction

arrow Jesus

arrow Mary

arrow Joseph

arrow Shepherds and angels

arrow Wise men

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