In more than one ancient work of sacred art we find Joseph off by himself looking bewildered in a depiction of the nativity. In Rublev’s icon we find the artist has captured a very real moment of Josephquestioning his predicament as well as his faith (bottom left of image).
The nativity was probably a difficult, maybe embarrassing time for him. He provided poorly for his family in time of crisis. He may have doubted God, thinking he surely could have helped a little more. Did he have to leave us here in the dirt? And in the midst of this confusion and personal trial God sends a choir of angels to a band of shepherds and sends Joseph an audience.
He is now a pitied spectacle before a group of rough, uncouth men. “. . . the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go . . . .” So, they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger . . . they made known to them the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” Luke 2: 15.
As Joseph stood by his family protecting them, caring for them in a most unseemly surrounding he is surprised by visitors, shepherds who were fearful and excited by a recent appearance of angels. They approached him cautiously yet full of wonder.
Is he the father of the child the angels spoke of? Is the child whom the choir of angels spoke of here? What angels? What choir? Joseph was confused by this. He’d been berating himself and sorrowing over his inability to secure better accommodations. He was tempted to doubt God over his strange and peculiar plight. He had been reduced to allowing his wife to deliver her son in a grotto where animals defecate. He could not have been comfortable in his situation.
An angel’s message from God Almighty led him to this moment. He was perplexed and near despair. And, now, lowly shepherds, who except for the fact that they were healthy and employed, were at the bottom of the food chain in terms of polite society, had come to adore the Christ child and announce all the angels had told them. They had all seen the angels. All of them had the same vision.
And, these shepherds were not discrete. They told everyone. “All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” Joseph was out-ed. Now everyone knew his child was born in a barn.