Joseph the Dreamer

Now after [the Magi] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. … When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-20 NRSV)


“Here comes this dreamer.”  This appellation could apply just as well to Joseph of Nazareth as it did to his ancestor and namesake centuries earlier.  To both men vivid, strange, compelling dreams came naturally.  Both acted in response to and were delivered from danger by those dreams.  Joseph’s dreams further persuaded him to take the mother and child back to Galilee because Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning in Judea (Matthew 2:22-23)

We know all too little about Joseph.  After the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, he disappears from the account.  He was Mary’s protector—as any husband would be.  He heeded the angelic instruction to not “dismiss her quietly,” as would have been perfectly right and proper given the mores of that time.  Tradition has it that he was old when Jesus was born: “Joseph was an old man, and an old man was he,” as the Cherry Tree Carol has it.  However, if you visit Gloucester Cathedral in England, that great Benedictine foundation, you will encounter a striking modern sculpture of the Holy Family, in which Mary is depicted as a teenager and Joseph as not that much older.

He is characterized as a carpenter, but this description could also apply to a worker in stone.  When one stands in the ruins of the city of Sepphoris, at one time the jewel of the Galilee, one can look across a valley to the town of Nazareth, about a mile away.  It is easy to picture Joseph and Jesus walking across that valley to their daily task of helping build the city.  In Luke’s Gospel, he is named as being present at the birth, and Jesus is later characterized as “Joseph’s son” (Luke 4:22).

What one learns from these very sketchy references is that Joseph was a man of deep faith and great faithfulness.  He had to be faithful to Mary when she informed him that she was pregnant.  He had to be open to the various angelic warnings and must have known that his son was special.  He quietly and unobtrusively did what all husbands and fathers are supposed to do – to support his wife and protect and nurture his son.  What all these chaotic happenings meant to him we don’t know.

Most gracious God, you sent your servant Joseph to be the protector of our Lord Jesus Christ and his mother Mary.  Enable us through his example to protect those most vulnerable in our society – mothers and young children, widows, the sick, the poor and the hungry, the homeless and refugees – and to reach out to them to alleviate their despair, to the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.