Little is known about Joseph, and yet enough is known to reveal what his character was. All that we know of him for certain, we know from the Gospels, and it is there that we see him to be a man who was determined to do what is right in the sight of God, and to do it in a kindly way. He was betrothed to Mary, and according to Jewish practice, betrothal was as sacred as marriage. Because of that, any infidelity before the actual marriage was treated in the same way as infidelity after marriage: death by stoning was the punishment for such sin. By all human appearance, Mary was in just such circumstances, and Joseph had to act in the way that seemed best. He was a just man, but he was a kind man, too, and surely what was revealed to him about Mary made a great demand on his faith.
But that is the point: Joseph was, above all, a man of faith and completely obedient to the divine will of Almighty God. When it was revealed to him that Mary was to bear the Incarnate Son of God he took her to be his wife. There was no hesitation, no consideration of what others might think or how they might judge. It mattered little to him that it was assumed he was the human father of this Child – not that he would have encouraged others to believe such a thing, for he knew the truth – but it was better than having people think that Mary had shamefully conceived with someone else, and so Joseph took the responsibility, knowing one day the truth would be known, and that Truth "would make men free." It is in this very situation, brought about by God Himself, that Saint Joseph's justness and kindness are both revealed.
Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Saviour with Love’s tenderness.
Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.
What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.
Text: V.1, Traditional,
vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music; CRADLE SONG, William James Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921)