A Zenit piece today reports on the Vatican nativity scene to represent the Holy Family in the home of Joseph. This is striking news. I’m eager to uncover a web image of it after the Christmas Eve unveiling.
Art historian Elizabeth Lev:
In the Nativity accounts, a mother figure is always there, but this Nativity makes present the importance of the father figure and the fact that he is essential. It’s a reminder that he wasn’t born only to a mother, while providing a source of meditation during this time when we are faced with the battle against marriage and the family.
I think the battle against marriage is sometimes a too-convenient slam at people whose primary interest is in generating a profit. If families can be separated, children made to grow up too soon, productivity valued above stability, then anything goes, even the break-up of families.
I heard a preacher badly misread Matthew 1:18-25 once:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
According to my priest friend, Joseph was a sexist, advocating divorce, setting aside a non-virgin wife. Nonsense.
Joseph the mystic, like his patriarchal ancestor, listens to his dreams. Like any human being encountering uncertainty, Joseph is counseled not to fear. He changes course. The annunciation to Joseph is not celebrated in a liturgical feast; the Church reserves this event for the fourth Sunday of Advent, cycle A.
No word of Joseph is recorded in the Scriptures. But the man bears well the weight of contemplation, as the framers of the new Vatican nativity have clearly understood.