Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah.
The first week of January, 2017
Snow on the ground, clear and cold by day and night – more snow coming.
The period between Christmas and New Year’s is more than a time of football and shopping and cleaning up.
I, like most people, am in a reflective mood about the mystery of Christmas just past and the mystery of the year to come.
Here’s my mind set:
“That was then, this is now, and what will be, will be. Onward.”
I go on because there is no place else to go . . .
But for some reason I’ve been thinking about a man in the Bible . . .
Winter. Nazareth. A week later. Mathias, the baker speaks:
“Hey, Joe! Welcome home – what’s happening? You don’t look so good.”
“I’m exhausted – trashed – banged up.”
“Well, Mary finally had her baby – a son.”
“Congratulations! When? Where?”
“A week ago in Bethlehem. We were on our way home when her water broke, and we ended up spending a night in a stable.”
“Is everything OK?”
“Well . . . yes. But the night the baby was born was . . . a little strange, though.
I can’t seem to get my mind around what happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to talk about. Seems like a dream. I must have been hallucinating, but there were angels floating around, and I would swear I heard animals speaking. And the weirdest thing of all . . . ”
“The little boy’s head seems to have a floating gold circle around it.
Mary says it’s because he’s actually the son of God.”
“Hey, every Jewish mother thinks her first son is the son of God – and as to the kid’s glowing head, it’s all in your mind from excitement – the glow will fade.”
“Yeah, well that’s not the worst of it. Mary had a hard time giving birth,
and now she’s too weak to do anything but lie in bed. And the baby has colic,
so I’m up all night walking the floor with this crying kid, and then I’m way
behind in my work, so I’m up all day, and then up again all night – and the kid’s head still hasn’t stopped glowing in the dark.
I think I’m losing my mind.”
“I know, I know. I’ve got three kids myself – you’ll get used to it.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t know what to think about all that. I guess someday I’ll understand. But I’ve got work to do, and a son to raise, and I’m just going to get on with it. Stop looking back. Don’t try to think – shut my mouth and do my work.”
“Me, too. With the high and mighty Herod and the Romans calling the shots, people like us don’t have much choice but to mind our business and do our job.
These are strange and scary times.”
And so, Josef, a carpenter from Nazareth, turned his face to the future – puzzled by what had just happened. And wondering about what that future would bring.
But, for the time being, there were the mundane tasks of daily life to get on with – shaping wood, working in construction, supporting a family, comforting a baby.
But every once in a while I’m sure he would look up, look at his son . . .
and wonder . . .
And I, like Josef, am just as puzzled by what happened a week ago, and I, like him, I try to stop thinking about last week and turn my face to the future and wonder . . What will the Herod of our own day do?
* * * * *
The character in the Christmas story who fascinates me most is Josef.
An Orthodox Jew, a blue-collar man who made his living with his hands.
We don’t know what his last name was – or even if he had one.
We know very little about him, actually, and what we do know comes from accounts written ninety years after that son was born.
Written from hearsay, not from eyewitnesses to the events.
We don’t know what Josef thought or what he had to say.
He would probably have known that his wife was a virgin.
And would have thought about that a lot for the 9 months before the birth.
No wonder he was speechless. He was dumbfounded, actually.
“Joe, I’m pregnant.”
“What? How? When? We haven’t . . . you’re a virgin . . .”
“An angel of the Lord came to me in the night . . . all in white, with wings.”
“The angel of the Lord said not to worry about a thing – God has it covered.”
Theologians and scholars and believers have been trying to make sense out of this for a couple of thousand years. They do not agree. And will not.
The conclusions are a matter of speculation and imagination and belief – unsupported by documentary evidence.
Josef has even been elevated to sainthood – St. Joseph, Patron of Workers.
A discipline called Josephology is the formal study of the nature of this man.
Western artists have rendered thousands of creative images him.
For two thousand years Josef has existed as a projection of imagination.
So why not me? It’s not heresy for me to speculate and imagine.
I know as little or as much as anybody else.
It’s reasonable to assume there was a man. And a woman. And a birth.
And I can relate to Josef’s state of mind.
I remember the first week after my first son was born.
It seemed miraculous to me.
I remember being amazed and puzzled – and still am.
I remember wondering what would become of him and me – and still do.
And then what happened to Josef? What was the rest of his story?
After that Nativity Night in the stable in West Bethlehem, that little family moved on to Nazareth. And life went on for the next week and the next month, and for twelve more years until the story is resumed, as told in the Book of Luke.
The family went up to Jerusalem for Passover, and their son remained behind. When they went back to look for him, he was disputing with the theologians.
And at that point, the son thought he knew who he was.
And who did Josef think he was?
A real father? A foster father? A bystander to a larger reality?
What did he and Mary talk about after life had settled down?
“If he’s the son of God, do we get anything out of it?
An income supplement, health care, maid service from angels?”
What kind of kid was Jeshua? (That’s most likely what the son was called.)
What was he like as a two year-old?
With the limited vocabulary of a two-year old.
“Jeshua, please …”
Or that of a six-year old?
“Jeshua, please . . .”
Why?” and “Why not?”
What did Jeshua know and when did he know it?
That’s the big question.
Suppose he knew when he was an adolescent, a teen age boy in puberty.
“Jeshua, go clean up your room.”
“No. The Messiah doesn’t clean up his room.
“Jeshua, help your mother with the dishes.”
“No. The Messiah doesn’t do dishes.”
“”Jeshua, take out the garbage.”
“No, the Messiah doesn’t do garbage.”
If theologians are to be believed, Jeshua was a whole human being.
And had the full experience of that.
So – did he have colds, and measles?
Did he throw up, and mess his pants?
Did he get into mischief?
And how did Josef handle all this during those missing years?
I don’t know.
My mind has wandered into swampy ground again.
But my guess is that he handled it about like I would.
After looking briefly over his shoulder at the recent events, he turned his mind to doing his work and raising a son, and doing the best he could with who he was, what he thought, and what he knew how to do.
One learns to live with mystery and awe and wonder.
One learns to keep calm, and carry on.