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Away in a Manger, with Father and Son

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Matthew 1:18-25. Since I spent a while at the dentist today and went to a Christmas event tonight, I’ve done a pen and ink sketch this time!

JN797_Joseph's Moment © Jen Norton

“Joseph’s Moment”

Poor Mary…God asked a lot of her. Here she was living a good Jewish teenage life, doing her chores, obeying her parents, laughing with friends. She’s engaged to a hardworking carpenter and her future is set. Then along comes God to rock her world. In his defense, he did send the Angel Gabriel to make sure she was cool with it, and she said “Yes” (Luke 1:26-38). You know the rest.

But what about Joseph? He had to say “yes” as well for this all to come together, and those times as well as ours, men had a lot more outs in situations like this. He could have dragged her in front of authorities when he found out she was pregnant, publicly humiliating her and ruining any chance she had at a good life. It would have been within his rights. Instead, he decided to divorce her quietly to spare her the embarrassment. Then the angels stepped in and told him not to be afraid that he was meant to be her husband and father to her child. So he stepped up to his calling. He put family first.

Soon after their marriage they had to travel by foot and donkey to another land for a government census. I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about that inconvenience, but he kept his wife safe along unprotected Roman roads. He was a forthright, responsible guy. So they finally get to Bethlehem, they’re tired, they can’t find a place to stay and is wife is about to pop! They hide out in a stable where she gives birth.

Here’s where we come in as modern observers…cherishing the beautifully bucolic creche scene we’ve all come to know and love. Introduced by St. Francis to inspire his 13th century congregation, we see Mary and Joseph kneeling serenely by their new baby, laid in a manger. Very quaint. Not very realistic.

No offense to St. Francis, who is one of my favorite saints, but if I had just traveled for weeks and given birth in a barn, kneeling before my baby in an animal trough wouldn’t be my first inclination. Now sleep and food, those are true gifts! So in my version, Joseph, being the upright, caring man he was, let his wife sleep. I bet he also took the time to breathe a little and give thanks that his wife was safe. Then I imagine he looked at this child and, feeling a big awkward, decided to pick him up and comfort him while his mother lay sleeping. Maybe he even changed the first swaddling diaper. Joseph was a doer. He did what needed to be done. Maybe they even had a dad-baby moment where Jesus looked up at him with those wise baby eyes. Any father experiencing that moment might indeed believe “God is with Us”, Emmanuel. In caring for baby Jesus, he fell in love with him and became his father.

It is said that God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Joseph learned the angels were right: He was not to be afraid. He had a family to care for now. Poor Mary? Blessed Mary!

This artwork is available here.