Not everyone can be the star of the theater. Some actors have to play supporting roles and even more people are needed to raise the curtain and handle the lighting.
Not everyone can be the lead singer. Some musicians are needed to play rhythm guitar and drums and even more people are needed to set up the instruments and manage the sound.
In all of life, there are only a few people who can stand in the spotlight or claim the headlines. For the most part, the world makes progress through the dedication and work of people who never become famous and whose efforts are often overlooked. However, without them, nothing would get done.
These past three weeks, we have been deep in the drama of the Advent season. The stage has been dominated by great figures like John the Baptist whose wild appearance and fiery sermons drew crowds from all over Israel to be baptized. The other star of Advent is Mary who has been acclaimed down through the ages as the “Blessed Virgin” and “Mother of God.”
In today’s gospel, however, we encounter a man who does not take center stage but rather plays a supporting role. In fact, throughout the gospels he speaks no lines. His name is Joseph. When we speak about the birth of the Messiah, we take his role for granted. Nonetheless, he would serve as the great protector of Mary and the child Jesus. Though he speaks no words, his role in this drama of salvation is central. If Joseph had not accepted Him as his own son, then Jesus could never have claimed to be the “Son of David” and “Messiah” because it is through Joseph that the line of King David runs. Therefore, though Joseph speaks no words, his role in the salvation of the world is unique and unrepeatable.
Saint Joseph is a great saint and has much to teach us as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The first lesson he teaches us is to be willing to work without recognition.
As we have said, much of his life, Joseph worked in the background. He played the supporting role to Mary and Jesus. He is an example to us, especially when we want the spotlight for ourselves. All of us experience moments when we think others are not valuing our contributions or that they are overlooking us. We can resent it when others take center stage and are rewarded for what they have given. All the while, we wonder why no one notices us.
In those moments, we should ask ourselves, “Are we doing what we do for God or for ourselves?” If we are doing it for God, then we can hope to receive our reward from Him. If we are doing it to have others recognize us, then we are doing it for ourselves and cannot hope to receive a reward from God.
If we find ourselves in that situation, it is good for us to remember the example of Saint Joseph and to pray that we will be content playing a supporting role and even being overlooked with our eye toward the reward that comes from God.
The second lesson Saint Joseph teaches us is to work through adversity.
Saint Joseph’s life was not easy. From the moment he takes Mary to be his wife, he must have had to deal with the gossip of those who wondered why she was already pregnant. When Jesus is about to be born, he had to endure the humiliation of not being able to find a decent place in Bethlehem for Mary to deliver her child. Shortly after his birth, he must flee to Egypt with his young family knowing that the king was intent on killing them all.
Through it all, Saint Joseph could have complained and questioned God for not rewarding his faith by making his life easy. Instead, he accepted God’s will and relied on whatever his Heavenly Father provided.
Like Saint Joseph, we should not expect that just because we have faith our life should be easier. Encountering resistance and facing adversity are necessary if we are to pick up our cross daily to follow Jesus. When we feel tempted to complain or to question God’s plan, we should look to Saint Joseph. Most likely, whatever annoyances we are dealing with are nothing compared to what he endured. He can inspire us to persevere and his prayers can strengthen us.
Finally, Saint Joseph teaches us to work even when we do not see any results.
The Bible is silent about Saint Joseph from the time Jesus is twelve years old. It is most likely that he died before Jesus started His ministry in Galilee. Throughout those years, Saint Joseph worked to provide for and protect Mary and Jesus without knowing how it would all turn out. Because of the dream he received, he knew that Jesus would be the promised Messiah but he never got to see how it would all work out. Nonetheless, Joseph continued to labor leaving the results to God. He trusted that God had a plan even though he didn’t know the details.
Often we are tempted to think that there is no point to our lives or our work. We wonder if any good is coming from our efforts. At times, we may want to even give up.
Again, Saint Joseph can be an inspiration to us. Much of what he did went unnoticed. He worked day in and day out doing menial jobs. Through it all, he never knew what would become of his adopted son. Just so, though our efforts may seem meaningless and thankless, we can be sure that, if it is God’s will and if we are doing it for His glory, then immeasurable good will come from it. Like Saint Joseph, we have to persevere trusting the results to God.
Today, the curtain comes down on the drama of Advent and we prepare for the next act - the birth of Jesus. As we do so, we reflect on the life of a man who worked quietly behind the scenes to help make sure our Messiah would be born and delivered safely to us. He was content to work without recognition, to persevere through adversity and to leave the results to God. Therefore, he is an inspiration to us who seek to follow Jesus and bring the good news into the world. Through the prayers of Saint Joseph, may we be protected and inspired to work to bring the Kingdom of God to fulfillment.