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Joseph's Sword

His faithfulness speaks louder than the few words devoted to him.
2004This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Every January, a special pastry called Galettes des Rois appears in Quebec City's grocery stores. It marks the time for Epiphany, the date that traditionally signifies the wise men's arrival in Bethlehem. In each is hidden a half-inch plastic figurine of a king. Its lucky finder is crowned sovereign ruler for the day. This celebration also marks the official end of the Christmas season.

I delight in the children's suspense and the party spirit of the day. But it seems odd to me that so little time that day, or throughout the holiday season, is given to remembering another man, one present from before Jesus' first breath.

The Gospels reveal little of Joseph of Nazareth. As far as we know, he never sang anything resembling Mary's Magnificat. Unlike Zechariah, he never remonstrated with an angel. Compared to Mary and Zechariah—and to the Magi who are remembered, at least in some churches, on Epiphany—Joseph appears all but forgotten, his actions mentioned, seemingly, only in passing.

Even at the Temple, where Joseph and Mary go together to present the newborn Jesus, Mary is the center of attention, the old man's words for her alone. "Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary … 'This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel … And a sword will pierce your own soul too' " (Luke 2:34-35).

Was Simeon implying that Joseph would somehow be spared the sword? Was he, indirectly, predicting a premature death for Joseph? Perhaps. Or is it that Simeon knew Joseph's soul was already all too familiar with the blade? Even today, some people would shake their heads in disapproval at a cuckolded husband-to-be willing to raise, as his own, the proof of what would look like infidelity. It's not ...

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