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St. Joseph and the mysterious mix of joy and sorrow

When the gas light for my car came on, I grumbled to God, “Really? Are you kidding me?!”

Nothing seemed to be going my way that day. It is not as if needing gas is a big deal, but this was yet another irritation in a day full of a dozen little inconveniences—and I was starting to become Father Grumpy Pants. I had started the day with some idea of how things would go, and when the day didn’t go according to my plans, I got upset that God wasn’t doing my will!

Then, as God often does, he gently reminded me of St. Joseph.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 1:4-7).

Think about St. Joseph’s experience of this. He had to leave his home with his pregnant wife to make the journey to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census. So he put her on a donkey (which must have been terribly uncomfortable for a pregnant woman) and they made the 8-10 day walk to Bethlehem.

Then, while they are there, it came time for her to give birth. Have you ever met a man whose wife is going into labor? He had to be panicking on the inside, but trying to seem calm on the outside. They were a hundred miles from home, they didn’t know anybody in Bethlehem, and he was not an expert in delivering babies!

He knocked on the door of the only inn in town. The inn-keeper, seeing Joseph and his pregnant wife, was not willing to make room for them; he turned them away. At that point, I imagine Joseph standing in the middle of road, looking up to the Heavens, and saying to the Lord, “Really?! I want to do your will, and I’m trying my best—why is this so difficult?!”

But God provided in a way St. Joseph didn’t expect. They spent the night among the animals. Instead of a crib, Jesus was laid in a manger (a cow’s feeding trough). It wasn’t as comfortable as Joseph had wanted for Mary and Jesus, but he was grateful for what they had.

Was Christmas night joyful for St. Joseph? Yes, of course. The savior of the world was born, and Joseph was the first to see him with his own eyes! But it was also a very stressful night for him, probably more than for anybody else. Those who have a devotion to St. Joseph often pray the Seven Joys and Sorrows of St. Joseph, and in that prayer Christmas night is acknowledged as one of those moments in Joseph’s life that was both joyful and sorrowful.

The holidays can be times of joy and sorrow for many people. The sorrow could be as little as the Christmas ham not turning out the way we hoped, or as big as facing the season after the death of a loved one. Thankfully, we have someone who can identify with that sorrow, and he wants to intercede for us. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the entire Church, and he knows that sometimes joy and sorrow are mixed in the mystery of love!

As we celebrate Christmas this year, we ask for the prayers of St. Joseph—that we might let go of how we think things ought to be, and abandon ourselves to the beauty of God’s plan.

Father Scott Bailey
Father Scott Bailey is a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver, currently the pastor of Risen Christ Parish.
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