When they [the magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” – Matthew 2:13-15
After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary would have been completely unaware of Herod’s plot to find and kill their newborn Son. They were no doubt planning and looking forward to their journey home when they could settle down into a quiet and peaceful family life. Again, God sends an angel to deliver a message to Joseph in a dream, through which He communicates His plan for Joseph in the big picture of the salvation of humanity.
In this particular story, the Savior has a savior. Despite being fully divine, He was also fully human and was brought forth as a helpless little infant, dependent on His parents for His every earthly need. It is very unlikely that Mary and Jesus would have survived the evil acts of Herod without Joseph, thus he was an instrumental cog in the entire divine plan, serving as their custodian and protector. Our very Savior was saved Himself from certain death by the quick action of His foster father. Therefore, the dream Joseph had was a saving dream and Joseph was specifically chosen to receive it and then carry out the will of God. Recall when Jesus is on the cross and the crowds shout to Him that if He truly is the Son of God, He should save Himself, yet He does not, nor does His Father in heaven save Him – naturally because it was necessary that He die. The one and only time, known to us, that Jesus is ever saved from anything is at the hands of St. Joseph. This was, therefore, a tremendous honor given to Joseph.
As always, being the righteous man that he was, Joseph trusted in God’s will and was obedient without question. In this case, the command to flee to a foreign land would have been stressful and frightening. Joseph likely was not familiar with the language or culture that waited for him in Egypt, nor did he know the means by which he would support and provide for his family. He was leaving behind his home, work, and stability. For all of these reasons and more, St. Joseph exemplified heroic courage. Doing the will of God always requires courage, because it always means facing unknown obstacles and resistance. Joseph knew that doing the will of God meant that God would provide for his every need as they arose. God will provide strength, grace, resources, and gifts to anyone who says “yes” to Him. Therefore, there is nothing to fear. Our fallen nature tells us to be afraid because we tend to look at our circumstances through a human lens, rather than a divine lens. However, like Joseph knew, if we know we are doing the will of God and we trust that He will support, defend, and provide for us in our holy work, then we too can have courage confidently.
When we were reflecting on the seven sorrows of Mary during Lent, we looked at this same story through her eyes and imagined the heavy heart she must have had with regard to all of the babies who would be killed while they were able to flee. Without a doubt, St. Joseph would have shared in that sorrow. His prayers would have been for all of the fathers who could not protect their children from Herod’s fury. He also would have found comfort in knowing that God would be holding these suffering families close to His divine heart and that the reward for their sacrifice would await them in heaven. The amount of faith Joseph had in God and His will to get through these types of thoughts and emotions would have certainly been great.
As we can see in this story, Joseph embodies many of the virtues we ourselves try live out every day – obedience, trust, courage, and faith. We continually find ourselves in situations where we need to obey the will of God, trust that He will provide us with whatever we need to carry it out, have the courage to do what He asks, and the faith that even the negative aspects of a situation will have their ultimate purpose in His divine plan. Like St. Joseph, God sometimes asks us to do very hard things so that His greater glory may be revealed. When we encounter these difficult situations we can look to St. Joseph as an example of how to handle them. We can also ask God for the sort of clarity and peace He gave to Joseph in his dreams, so we can be certain of God’s will in our lives.
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