Lessons on Waiting from Joseph

Karen Gonzalez and I met through a women writers group. Her encouraging voice, honest perspectives, and unique story have inspired me, and I think they will speak to you as well.

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Lessons on Waiting from Joseph

by Karen Gonzalez

I read a book a couple of years ago called The Madonnas of Leningrad—it was a narrative built around the dozens of paintings of Mary and the baby Jesus that are housed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The curious thing is that in comparison there are very few paintings of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus even though the three of them are considered the holy family. I guess it’s not too surprising, considering that in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, Mary is highly esteemed and venerated, and Joseph is a saint but not given the same level of attention.

Joseph is kind of an afterthought for a lot of people, including me—he’s the supporting actor in a film where Mary and Jesus are the stars. Not very memorable. Not the most important part.

And I think that’s really a shame because Joseph has a lot to teach us about waiting and the life of faith.

As a highly verbal person, I have always found it extraordinary that Joseph never speaks a single word in any part of the Bible. We know very little about him personally. in fact, most of what we know is that he was a woodworker, but probably more like a day laborer; he was a descendant of David the king; he was a man God called to be the father of a son generated by the Holy Spirit; and he heard from God through dreams on two important occasions.

His story really gets interesting when he is about to get married but finds out his betrothed is expecting a child he knows is not his. He has a dream before he has a chance to call off the engagement, and God asks him through the angel in his dream to take Mary as his wife because the child she is carrying is special. And in Matthew 1, we read:

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

I always found it surprising that Joseph does not bargain with God; he does not argue or ask for signs or guarantees. And most fascinating, he doesn’t ask the all-important questions that would consume my being: when? When will this child save the people from their sins? And how will this happen?

In this way, Joseph reminds me of his ancestor Abraham in the book of Genesis. Abraham, interestingly, is the first ancestor mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew’s gospel where Joseph’s story is told.

Whereas Joseph was asked to receive a son that was not his own, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own son, the son he had been promised, the one through whom generations would come, the one he had waited for into his old age. Joseph like Abraham, never objected to the word of God but listened and followed; he reacted in silence, and his actions spoke loudly about his trust in God.

And like Abraham, Joseph never got to see the words of God fulfilled. He waited and watched as his son Jesus grew up, and the doubts that surely afflicted him were placed in the hands of the one who directed the story. It is very likely that he died before the ascension, the resurrection, the crucifixion, the arrest, even before Jesus began his public ministry. In fact, many New Testament scholars suspect he died before Jesus was even 20-years-old because that would be in line with the lifespan of most men in the ancient world.

During this season of mystery, wonderment, and waiting, I often reflect on the life of Joseph. I think about the way I have waited for things like marriage, family, and vocation. And for even bigger things, like justice, the end of the patriarchy, the toppling of white supremacy, and the valuing of immigrant and black lives. And I do not have the faith of Joseph–the trust he seemingly revealed in saying yes to God and trusting through the long waiting and never seeing.

I want to be like Joseph who awoke not just from a dream but from doubts, fear, and from calculating human possibilities. With new trust and the serenity of faith, he cast his lot with his good God and believed the words spoken to him.

What are you waiting and hoping for in this season of advent?

How does the example of Joseph speak to you in your waiting?



Karen Gonzalez, an immigrant from Guatemala, is an immigrant advocate and writer. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland where she enjoys musing about theology, cooking Latin food, and watching baseball (in that order). You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @_karenjgonzalez.



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