Artists almost always show Mary, Joseph, and the new-born Jesus all alone—except for a cow, a donkey, and eventually some sheep and scruffy shepherds. Like the idea of Jesus being born in a rickety stable, this is highly unlikely for at least two reasons.
First, remember that Joseph was a devout Jew. If he were in attendance at a birth, he would be rendered ritually impure. This is not something a man, especially not a devout one, would have done unless there was simply no other option. Maybe, if Jesus were born on the road while they were traveling, Joseph would have been forced to help, but Luke tells us clearly that they were in Bethlehem.
Second, while the Gospels don’t mention midwives, an apocryphal text, the Protoevangelium of James that dates to about AD 150, says: “he [Joseph] went out to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem.” In fact, this ancient account says there were two midwives present, one called Salome, who verified that Mary was still a virgin after giving birth. While the account contains much that is mythical, the idea that midwives were in attendance is probably accurate.
Finally, Bethlehem is a small village, People haven’t changed much over the centuries. If a heavily pregnant young woman were giving birth, the news would have been all over the place in about two minutes. It strains credulity to think that the women, especially older women who had acted as midwives, would just ignore the situation and let Joseph handle it.
Joseph’s role in Jesus’ birth was probably relegated to pacing nervously outside, waiting for word of a successful delivery. This takes nothing away from Joseph, but it does help us realize that Jesus was born to two average, first-century Jews who followed the customs both of their religion and their culture.
To give life to someone is the greatest of all gifts. To save a life is the next. Who gave life to Jesus? It was Mary. Who saved his life? It was Joseph. Ask Saint Paul who persecuted him. Saint Peter who denied him. Ask all the saints who put him to death. But if we ask, “Who saved his life?” Be silent, patriarchs, be silent, prophets, be silent, apostles, confessors and martyrs. Let Saint Joseph speak, for this honor is his alone; he alone is the savior of his Savior.
–Blessed William Joseph Chaminade
Saint Joseph, help me to always remember that there are blessings in doing things the ordinary way and not to continually seek a miracle when a miracle isn’t needed. Amen.