One of my unforgettable experiences in my parish is when a husband and wife quarreled during the baptism of their child. When I asked the father the name to be given to their son right before baptism, he gave another name and instantly, his wife hit him with her elbow and snapped, “who’s that baby again!?”
In the rites of baptism, it is the father who is asked by the minister on the name to be given to the child. It is the father who gives the name because he is the origin of life, the giver of life; hence, every child uses the father’s family name to show his paternity. This is in essence the reason God asked Joseph “to be not afraid to take Mary as his wife” so he would be the legal father of Jesus Christ. Though it is very clear in the account of Matthew yesterday and today that Jesus is truly the Son of God and not of any human, the evangelist shows us how through Joseph, Jesus belongs by law – legally – to the house of David as fulfillment of God’s promise. At the same time, in giving name to Jesus, Joseph proves more than ever his holiness which is the meaning of his description as a “righteous” or “just” man. This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly (Mt.1:18-19).
Holiness for the Jews or being righteous and just is primarily obedience to the Laws of God handed down through Moses. However, during the time of Christ this perception became so limited to mere obedience to the letters of the law that even Jesus later on would try to correct. His legal father, St. Joseph, in fact would exactly do that when he showed that holiness is a constant dialogue with God when one is nourished by His words like a tree planted near the streams of water, bearing fruits of love for God and for others. This imagery is found in the Book of Psalms that says men who are just and righteous are those who “delight in the law of the Lord, like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers” (Ps.1:2-3). When St. Joseph decided to quietly divorce Mary after learning about her pregnancy, it was the height of his love for her as he was very willing to walk away and let her marry whoever fathered that child in her womb than subject her to public shame and humiliation as their laws prescribed. In that aspect alone, we find St. Joseph very holy indeed! But it did not stop there: after being informed by the angel in a dream of the divine nature of Mary’s pregnancy, St. Joseph proved anew his holiness with his deep love for God by eventually taking Mary as his wife that paved the way for the first Christmas we now celebrate. St. Joseph’s holiness shone brightly in this aspect when his love for Mary was never diminished but even deepened when his love for God moved him to take “his wife home.” Here are the fine prints of St. Joseph’s holiness that in his love for God, he had to take Mary as his wife and in doing that, he eventually brought forth in a sense the birth of Jesus Christ. Every time we love God, it always leads us to love others too. It is when we live in love that Jesus Christ truly comes into our lives and Christmas happens always.
But there is something bigger and better, lovelier and holier to unfold in St. Joseph’s role as legal father of Jesus Christ. Notice how Matthew repeated the verb “to name” twice: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Mt.1:21)” and “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and named him Jesus (Mt.1:24-25).” Giving of names in general connotes authority. In Genesis, God gave man the authority to give names to the animals He had created. Parents give names to their children as a sign of their authority. Bullies in classrooms and anywhere always try to assert their authority by giving funny names to their victims while lovers always have unique names given to their beloved as terms of endearment. In this respect, St. Joseph did not merely give up that authority of giving name but must have also realized within him the awesome reality of things about to unfold in the birth of Mary’s child who “will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).