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 | By Dr. Tom Dorsel

Mary Christmas … and Joseph, Too!

Amid the celebration of the birth of Jesus, widely overlooked at Christmastime is the untold love story that was Joseph and Mary.

In “The Shadow of the Father,” author Jan Dobraczyński offers a speculative glimpse at what the love story might have been like. He makes a beautiful effort to fill in the gaps that the Scriptures largely leave out, about what he envisions it must have been like between the couple.

The author culls from little scriptural hints that Joseph was a virile young man living in Bethlehem, waiting beyond the usual marrying age for the right woman to come into his life.

Upon leaving Bethlehem due to the growing threat of an irrational King Herod, Joseph finds his way to Nazareth where he has decided to take his carpentry trade and see how things go in this new location in Galilee. He had heard about Mary living there from someone who knew her and Joseph, and when he meets her at a well much sooner than expected, he immediately knows this is the one. In other words, he falls in love, for the first time in his life, at first sight.

Mary also notices there is something different about Joseph, his respect and deference to women, his kindness and courteousness, his rare combination of strength and gentleness. To shorten the story a bit, he eventually nervously asks for her hand. She hesitates, but knows she is going to say, “yes,” and finally does so.

They live apart from each other so as not to scandalize the townspeople. Joseph commences to add on to his little house and shop, in preparation to bring his wife in after the wedding. They see each other often, but never alone, again not to cause any bad impressions.

One day Mary is out in the field tending sheep when she encounters the supernatural in the form of a pillar of fire. Overwhelmed by this mysterious Annunciation, she of course says, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Presumably she was also told about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which she finds hard to believe, but when she returns home, some traveling merchants had arrived with a special-delivery message from Elizabeth that she was pregnant. That was the sign Mary needed to really convince her about the reality of the Annunciation and propel her into action to go see Elizabeth.

Indeed, she went so fast that she did not even tell her betrothed, Joseph, or ask for his consent. This was very hurtful for Joseph, as he and Mary were soon to be married, and here he was, left in the dark about what was going on with her.

To make it worse, Bethlehem was not just over the hill, it was 80 miles away over rugged, dangerous terrain, and the only means of travel was with a caravan of all male strangers, fortunately ones she felt could be trusted. But Joseph didn’t know that or totally share the same trust.

Indeed, Joseph did not know or understand anything of what was going on. He was left broken hearted that his bride to be would do this without any explanation, particularly running off with a caravan of men she didn’t even know.

In Mary’s defense, the difficulty for her was that she could give no explanation to Joseph, since what was revealed to her by the angel was still a secret that only she and Elizabeth knew. If she had asked for Joseph’s consent, or if he had gone with her, then she would have had to divulge something he could not possibly understand at the time. She didn’t even fully understand it. So, she had to take the chance, knowing it would hurt the man she loved.

Mary’s trip is arduous, even more so than she expected, but she finally reaches Elizabeth, and they share the joy only they could know and understand at this point.

Meanwhile, back in Nazareth, Joseph is left totally depressed, doubting his whole existence, his future with Mary, where God is in his life, a life he has lived faithfully from the beginning.

After several months, Mary finally returns and is seen to be pregnant by all, that is, her family and the villagers, except Joseph, who was lying low in his depression and was the last to find out. When he does, he not only receives the heartbreaking news that his intended wife is pregnant through no involvement of his, but he is also mocked for being the source of this disgraceful situation. He was devastated on two fronts: his bride-to-be is pregnant out of wedlock, and on top of that he is being considered the culprit.

In his confusion and depression, he runs broken-hearted up the nearby hill beneath the stars to get away from everything and think. He lies down in the grass and weeps himself to sleep, waking up the next morning on the hillside, still with no answers. But he decides to come back down to his home in Nazareth and take Mary into his home, even though he has no understanding of what is going on. He simply trusts in God that this is the right thing to do.

We leave the story here, only a third of the way through the book, with a lot of gaps to fill in between. But rest assured, there is so much more love story to tell that goes beyond this brief introduction. You will find Jan Dobraczyński’s “The Shadow of the Father” one of the best books you will ever read, and it will leave you with an impression of Mary and Joseph like you have never had before.

You will fall in love with them, like they did with each other, and your experience of Christmas will never be the same.

Thomas Dorsel, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of psychology, a parishioner at St. Francis by the Sea Church and a cantor at Holy Family Church on Hilton Head Island.