St. Joseph, a saint for an Age of Anxiety

A couple years ago, I preached on St. Joseph during Advent and reflected on the image above, by James Tissot, “The Anxiety of St. Joseph.”

We tend to think of Joseph the way we see him in the manger scene outside our church, or on the cards we send, or the pageants that are staged.   He is strong, stoic, patient – “righteous,” as Matthew describes him.

But Tissot understood that the man betrothed to Mary was a man of worries, and apprehension, and even fear.  This morning, I’d like to suggest that Joseph is also a man who speaks to our own time.

He is a man for our age – an Age of Anxiety.

He must have known economic uncertainty – wondering how he would support and sustain his family, running his own small business.  He had to pay taxes – to “render unto Caeser.”  Like many people today, shortly after his son was born, Joseph and his family became refugees, immigrants in a foreign land – the land that had held his people as slaves.  Joseph also lived with the threat of terror – a ruthless king bent on murdering children.

On a more personal level, Joseph knew the anxiety of any man about to become a father. He must have asked himself: am I ready for this?  Am I good enough, strong enough, wise enough? And then, confronting the very real possibility of scandal, Joseph must have had more than a few sleepless nights.  How, he must have wondered, could he protect and spare the woman he loved?

And — like Mary, the woman he loved — he also must have thought at some point: this is not what I had planned.   Everything is suddenly different.

How many of us have said that about our own lives?  How many of us have had to face, like Joseph, a confusing world with uncertainty, and doubt, and anxiety and fear?

How many of us have felt like the man in that Tissot drawing, frozen in place, while the world moves on around us, and we stand there and worry and wonder:  what do I do?   How will I get through this?

But into all that, in Joseph’s complicated life, comes a voice in a dream.

“Do not be afraid.  God is with us.”

And his world – and ours – is changed.

In the middle of “the anxiety of Joseph” comes blessed reassurance – and a reminder that God’s will sees beyond our fears, beyond our limitations.

When our lives can seem a nightmare, we cannot forget to dream.

You can read the rest here.

Meantime, happy St. Joseph’s Day.

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