The birth narrative involves the angel visiting and talking to Mary and Joseph among others. Even though Joseph is let in on the secret of how Mary has conceived, he does two things in secret. Our culture and many other cultures see black, dark and even shadows as something bad and despicable. Joseph who in most part is a silent partner in the narrative has something to offer us in the form of secrets and shadows.
It is interesting to note that we do or we are forced to do bad things in the dark or in secret. Perhaps the usage “his/her/my darkest hour” places “dark” in bad light. Joseph wanted to secretly send away Mary when he learned that she was carrying a baby. He was going to do something bad and yet he was trying to be a nice person by doing that. This is when an intervention by the angel sets things right. But Joseph again secretly supports Mary without others knowing how she has conceived. It is challenging to see that we do bad and worse things in secret and once it is dark the real us comes out. Joseph does something different in being more considerate towards Mary both in secret and in the dark. He must have swallowed a large male ego to do so and in doing that he challenges the very notion of darkness and sin. He shows us that we can after all do good things in the dark and in secret. This is a good lesson when we think of and meditate upon the birth narrative.
Even though Joseph plays second fiddle to Mary he does not wait in secret to seek his revenge but rather does so to behave well with her. The birth narrative this way definitely has Mary in the forefront as a young girl who bears Jesus but it also shows through Joseph the supporting role which should be played by men in a society which is clearly anti-women. This supporting role may not always be played out in the public but in more private spaces. Families have problems which are seen in private and may never come to light. The man in the family who is good outside in the light will be someone else in secret.
The birth narrative offers men especially an opportunity to travel to our deepest darkness inside and choose to do good instead of surrendering to the notion that men can and should only do evil things in private. Joseph is silent but is trying to do something in his silence as well. He is present when the shepherds and elders come to meet baby Jesus but it is not a pronounced presence like Mary. It is almost like a shadow. The shadow is also seen as something which can be done away with because it also has darkness as a part of it. But Joseph invites us to witness a shadow of blessing which he turns out to be. He does not limit himself to the darkest and most evil of thoughts but rather becomes a shadow of blessing to the child and Mary.
The birth narrative should make us think different about how darkness and shadows have been seen as something bad and avoidable just like the birth of a child out of wed lock. Mary is inspired by the Holy Spirit but she could have been dragged into the darkness of male egoism and a patriarchal society and yet Joseph decides to do otherwise. Can we also during the birth of Christ become a shadow of blessing to someone? There are many in society who are outcasts because of their choice or the community they belong to. Wouldn’t it be nice to use the shadow and secret initiatives to offer justice to people who have suffered under shadows and secret decisions?
Joseph defies the thought process of his time and he denies tradition. He feels that Mary needs his presence and he should offer whatever he can even though he may not be able to comprehend what he is doing. Our shadow is something we do not control largely. It is also something we do not notice always. And yet imagine it becoming a blessing to others? Our shadow can be our inner most thoughts and desires. It is there and yet we forget it is there. Joseph realizes his shadow and the strength of his shadow without actually planning his response to the predicament he found himself under.
We must realize that we are not in the manger or the rock opening where the baby is wrapped in bands of cloth. Yet our shadow could be there either when we face it or when we have our backs to it. This shadow of blessing is a realization that the birth of Christ is indeed not just an event but also a controversy. It is a controversy of a woman who has conceived of the Holy Spirit. We can deny it and secretly dismiss Mary or we can go into the most innermost darkness of our thoughts and become a shadow of blessing.