Mary & Joseph: Walking through the unknown toward destiny

December 24, 2014

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I’ve come to admire James Martin, S.J., a Jesuit writer and thinker. His approach is so … pastoral.  He posted this Advent meditation on Facebook on December 10th. I’m re-posting it with his permission. It’s an excerpt his “Jesus: A Pilgrimage”: http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-A-Pilgrimage-James…/…/006202423X ” Image found on web. Origin unknown.

How did Joseph deal with the difficult times in which he found himself? By pushing on in the midst of confusion. The Gospel of Matthew describes God communicating with Joseph through two dreams, first to explain Mary’s pregnancy and then to direct him to Egypt. “But,” as the Swiss writer Adrienne von Speyr intuits, “he will never fully comprehend what happened with Mary the Virgin.”

This makes sense. Even in the light of direct revelation from God, Mary and Joseph could be forgiven for feeling confused. What soon-to-be-mother and soon-to-be-father do not feel confusion? And if normal parents feel addled, how much more confused must have been Mary and Joseph, parents of the most unusual child in history? I imagine them trudging to Bethlehem, loving and supportive of one another, trusting and hopeful in God, but worried. Did they keep their feelings to themselves, or did they share them? Perhaps they said to one another, trying to understand things: “Tell me, Mary, more about your experience with the angel.” Or “Tell me again about your dream, Joseph.”

So they were probably wondering, confused and possibly frightened. Frightened of not finding lodgings in time, of the physical complications in an era when women often died in childbirth, and of their ability to care for the child whom they knew would be different.

Those emotions may have continued after the child’s birth. One of the most common emotions that new parents have often shared with me is fear: How will I know what to do? How will I provide for my child? What happens if he or she gets sick? When my first nephew was born I remember being seized with a welter of emotions. Joy first of all. But also—and this surprised me—fear. Would he remain healthy? Would an accident befall him? Would he live?

Last year, while visiting my mother in her retirement community, I was asked to take my seven-year-old nephew to the indoor pool. Matthew loves to swim; on the way to the pool, he raced past an elderly woman, almost knocking her over and shouted, “I’m going to the pool!” But every time he leapt joyfully into the water I worried: Would he get hurt? And when he shouted, “Uncle Jim, watch this!” and flipped backwards from the pool’s slippery edge, I thought: Don’t hit your head! Fear. And this was only an hour in a pool.

The next week, I asked a father of three children, if he ever felt the same. “Yes,” said my friend. “I love being a father, but I’m afraid almost all the time.”

Had Mary and Joseph known precisely what their son’s future would hold they might have been even more afraid. I’ve always wondered if Mary or Joseph had much intimation of Jesus’s future. After all, they knew that this child was destined for something special, even if they did not fully understand. Did they fear the entrance of this holy boy into a sinful world? Were they consumed with worry about their son’s future? Did they cast their minds back over what had happened to prophets in the past? If so, this did not prevent them from fulfilling what they had promised to God.

Fear is often identified as a stumbling block in the spiritual life—in Jesus’s time as well as ours. “Do not be afraid!” Jesus says, more than once. In fact, “Do not be afraid” may be what Jesus most often tell us not to do. The angels say the same to the shepherds in the field. But confusion seems less worthy of attention, although we feel it just as frequently. “Don’t worry about being confused!” would be an equally consoling message from God. We can take as our models Mary and Joseph, who had the right to be the two most confused people in history, who were confronted with something utterly baffling, but did what God was asking of them, anyway.

Mary and Joseph do three simple but essential things: they listen, they trust, they love.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is an ordained clergyman specializing in healing and conflict transformation. He lives with his wife and son in Connecticut.

View all posts by Charles Redfern

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