The manger scene is familiar to us all. We can visualize the scene and the actors. There was a big star in the sky, but there were big stars at the barn, too. Jesus was the biggest of all. And of course, His mom has attained quite a following among our Catholic friends.
But what about Joseph? Where's his following? He was there that night. He had to endure his own labor pains as he stood by the side of his expecting wife whose expectation was not his own. He defended her purity. He packed the donkey and bravely guided the family to Bethlehem. He is the quiet hero of Christmas eve. Though Scripture makes it clear Joseph was not Jesus' father (that Jesus was divinely conceived), Joseph stood over the Baby Boy with pride that night.
The last we hear of Joseph is when Jesus was twelve. From then on, we only hear of Jesus' mother and brothers. The assumption is that Joseph died at a young age.
That thought strangely comforts me at Christmas. Maybe it will you, too. For at every Christmas with all the trees, trimmings, and tinsel; with all the laughter, joy, and celebration...there are loved ones not in attendance. Like Joseph, they left earth for an eternal home. Like Mary, at Christmastime, we miss them in our earthly home.
Every Christmas, there's a place for a person, but no person. We still want to wrap a package and put their name on it. They still sit at the table of our heart, though their chair at the dinner table is empty. Our ears strain to hear the laughter and singing of that voice that never leaves our soul.
There is a tradition among some Christian families to leave the Baby Jesus out of the manger scene until Christmas morning. Then on that morning, the family ceremoniously places the Baby Jesus in the scene to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas.
Maybe it's time to start a new tradition for those who've lost loved ones. Maybe we should, on Christmas Day, take Joseph from the manger scene and put him on a higher shelf, so that, even though his spot with the family is empty, his presence is still felt from above.
Have a Joseph AND Merry Christmas,