While John the Baptist is one of those biblical figures who can take up all the air in the Advent room, our attention shifts in the readings for this Sunday (Dec. 18) to Mary and the virgin birth. Indeed, this week’s Gospel is probably the keystone to the entire Christian faith, that is Mary “found to be with child” when engaged to Joseph.
And just when Joseph, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” planned to quietly dismiss her, an angel shows up in a dream and gives Joseph specific instructions. After awaking from the dream, “Righteous Joseph” does exactly as the Lord commanded, taking Mary as his wife and naming the child “Jesus.”
So much for quiet. “High drama” for dear Joseph, as one of my best friends would say.
Throughout the centuries, some have said that Joseph does not get enough credit. However, I believe that Christianity has kept its eyes on Joseph, the “quiet strength” who stood beside Mary, taking such care of her and doing the very best he could.
Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father in every way, raising him in the little town of Nazareth, teaching him the carpenter trade, and providing for and protecting the family. With his name given to parish churches, his likeness in stained glass, his place in every crèche and manger set, and his character in Christmas pageants, I hope that Joseph has been given his due credit.
This Sunday’s music at the 10:30 service is almost exclusively “Marian” in nature. The Offertory anthem is a new setting of the “Ave Maria” text by contemporary British composer Malcolm Archer (b. 1952). The Sequence hymn, “The angel Gabriel,” better known as the Basque Carol, tells the exact story of the Annunciation. The Communion hymn, “Ye who claim the faith of Jesus,” has as its last stanza the Magnificat (The Song of Mary) canticle verbatim. And the departing procession hymn, “Redeemer of the nations, come,” text by Ambrose of Milan (340-397), is one of the oldest texts in the hymnal and speaks of Mary throughout.
However, our 5:30 Sunday Celtic Eucharist on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) will feature the traditional English carol “Righteous Joseph,” among many others. I’m very pleased that Joseph has his own carol, and I enjoy reading these Old English words:
When righteous Joseph wedded was
Unto a virtuous maid,
A glorious angel came from heaven,
And to the virgin said –
“Hail blessed Mary, full of grace,
The Lord remains with thee,
Thou shalt conceive and bear a Son,
Man's Saviour he shall be.”
'Tis wondrous strange, quoth Mary, then,
I should conceive and breed,
Who ne'er was touched by mortal man,
In word, or thought, or deed.
When Joseph he returned
To Mary, meek and mild,
He wondered strangely at his wife,
To see her big with child.
God's messenger she did believe,
And is to Jerusalem gone,
Three months with her friends to stay,
God's blessed will be done.
Thus spoke the angel Gabriel,
This is not the work of man,
It is by God's ordained will,
E'er since the world began.
She's mother, maid and married wife,
By Jesu's birth befel,
And by his power and by his grace,
He'll conquer death and hell.
O Joseph do not blame your wife,
She's still a virtuous maid;
For no consent to any sin,
Against her can be laid.