Isaiah 7: 10-14; Matthew 1: 18-24
A nineteenth century French artist painted an image titled, The Anxiety of Saint Joseph. It’s not the typical image that we are used to with Joseph as the old guy holding a lantern in the manger scene. Rather, the artist shows Joseph, at this moment in his life, hunched over his work bench with a glazed look on his face as if the weight of the world rests on his shoulders. The artist tries to convey all that goes on in his mind at that moment when he discovers the reality of life’s situation…will we have the finances for this child? what do I do with Mary? This isn’t the life we planned for ourselves? In a moments notice, the chance for certainty in their lives and any chance of living the life he dreamed of with Mary now goes out the window. The weight of the world rests on the shoulders of Joseph in this gospel and in that painting, the anxiety of Saint Joseph.
I dare say any of us in his situation would be confronted with the same fear and anxiety. Not only did Joseph have his own expectations on life now being surrendered, but he also had to confront the pressure from the outside world and what was expected of him from the law. He was to divorce Mary with the possibility of death, but something deep down in Joseph creates this stirring and this uncertainty, that there’s a better way; that there’s something greater than the written law that is calling from within. But like us, we often make it difficult for God to break into our lives. When we feel the weight of the world and all the anxieties we face in our own lives, it so often prevents us from living in that same faith as Joseph and Mary. It’s so much easier to give into those outside pressures even though we know they may not be the best; it’s still easier, but Joseph and Mary do anything but choose the easy path in life. In that moment when we are most vulnerable, when Joseph is fast asleep, God knocks and breaks in, speaking from those very depths of his being…Joseph, Son of David, do not fear, it is through the holy spirit, a son named Emmanuel. Now we are often quick to write off dreams and imagination, but from the beginning of the Bible, the first Joseph we encounter, God often uses dreams to reach people who live with fear and anxiety, often because we get stuck in our heads, seeking certainty rather than faith.
The same is true for Ahaz in today’s first reading from Isaiah. The Lord himself is trying to convince Ahaz that he should seek a sign, but like most of us, if we ask, we fear we may actually get one! Ahaz thought he could figure it out on his own, despite pressures from the other kingdoms who wanted him to align with them. Again, like Joseph, Ahaz felt a stirring deep within that told him otherwise and yet creates anxiety for himself rather than surrendering to the invitation by the Lord.
We all know anxiety. We all face it in our lives and the pressures from the outside world only feed into it. We are often told we need certainty in life. We are told we need things to make us happy, especially this time of year. Double that with the anxieties of the holiday season we prepare for, by the time it actually comes, we feel exhausted because we carry the weight of our own world on our shoulders, glazed over like Joseph in that painting, wondering what we have gotten ourselves into and Christmas passes us by. In these final days and hours, we are given the opportunity to enter into this mystery, with all our anxieties and everything else going on in our lives, knowing that it was far from perfect for Joseph and Mary, just as it is for us, but rather than feeding our fears and anxieties, to embrace the Christ deep within ourselves and to live in faith, to take that leap as they do in their young lives. The message we will hear throughout Matthew’s Gospel, from beginning to end, is the message we hear today…Emmanuel, God is with us. That’s it! We don’t need to go out searching anywhere in search of this newborn king, rather, like Joseph, we go deep within to the stirrings of our heart only to find the treasure and the gift of faith that will see us through wherever God may lead.