The Magi are a charming part of most Nativity scenes, even if their presence there is completely erroneous. The Magi never saw Jesus as a newborn, and they certainly never visited him at his place of birth. Matthew clearly says that once they found Jesus, they entered “the house” that the traveling star had indicated. Obviously, if they were entering a house, Mary and Joseph had to be back in their home in Nazareth by the time the Magi arrived. (For an idea of where the Holy Family lived, see At Home with the Holy Family.)
The next thing we are told is that they saw the child with his mother. Joseph isn’t mentioned. Now there are a couple of possible reasons for this. Matthew might not have thought it was essential to say that Joseph was there, but that seems a peculiar omission. More probable is the idea that Joseph was off working somewhere when they arrived. It’s entirely possible that he was on a construction project at Sepphoris, a town a short walk away that was undergoing extensive reconstruction after being destroyed by the Romans in 4 BC. (See Saint Joseph: What Did He Do For a Living?) In any event, Joseph doesn’t seem to have been around for the visit.
It must have caused a bit of a stir in the village when these esteemed priests arrived. Imagine what Mary (not to mention the neighbors) was thinking when they left gold, frankincense, and myrrh before heading back to their own country. These are gifts fit for a king. Frankincense and myrrh were worth as much or more than gold. While the exact value can’t be calculated, suffice to say that the gifts were extraordinarily valuable.
It’s with this treasure that our next contemplation of Joseph must begin. Imagine Joseph coming home to discover a literal fortune in the front room. Mary tells him that three strangers appeared, worshipped Jesus, and then left. Joseph had to be a very understanding husband to listen to that story and believe it, but then he already had practice accepting that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. At that moment, the Holy Family were no longer poor. It was as if they had won the lottery. As the head of the household, Joseph would have been responsible for taking care of this financial windfall. In our next entry, we will consider what that might have meant for the Holy Family.
“In Joseph . . . heads of the household are blessed with the unsurpassed model of fatherly watchfulness and care.” –Pope Leo XIII
Saint Joseph, when the unexpected happens, help me to respond in an appropriate way. Amen.
Image credit: Corinne SIMON/CIRIC