We tend to think that everything involving Joseph in the infancy of Jesus happened all at once, but that isn’t the case. Even the Scriptures let us know that the events surrounding the beginning of Jesus’ life are spread over several years.
Let’s look at what events we know that Joseph would have been involved in, and how they might line up.
- Joseph and Mary become betrothed while they are both living in Nazareth. Presumably, they get married there and set up a household.
- Just before the birth of Jesus, they travel to Bethlehem.
- Jesus is born in Bethlehem.
- Shepherds visit the family the night after the birth.
- Eight days after his birth, Jesus is circumcised. The Holy Family apparently goes back to Nazareth either before or just after this.
- At the “time of purification” (forty days after the birth of a male child), the Holy Family travels to Jerusalem for Mary’s purification and, while they are there, to present Jesus as well.
- The Holy Family returns to Nazareth.
- The Magi visit Mary and Jesus.
- Herod orders the killing of all baby boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem after he meets with the Magi.
- The Holy Family flees to Egypt, where they live for an indefinite time—at least several months, perhaps several years.
- Joseph is told by an angel to go back to the “land of Israel,” but he returns to Nazareth, instead, where he presumably lives the rest of his life.
When the events are laid out, it becomes clear that our Nativity scene with shepherds and Magi all converging on the humble stable at once is lovely, but a little inaccurate. It also becomes apparent that Mary and Joseph did quite a bit of traveling around the countryside before they fled to Egypt. Moreover, the family didn’t trek through the desert with a newborn. (Probably they had a toddler, which would have been more difficult!)
Surprised? Many people are because we tend to combine all the events as if Jesus were born, the shepherds and Magi arrive, Herod orders babies to be killed, and the Holy Family goes to Egypt all in the space of a few weeks at most. That’s more than likely not how it happened, and in the following entries, we will be looking at some of these events and reflecting on the role Saint Joseph played in each.
As we look at them, one thing we must never forget is that however much Joseph appears to be in the background, without his strong and faithful care for Mary and Jesus, the entire story of salvation would be vastly different indeed.
“We wonder why the Gospel makes so little mention of Saint Joseph. But did it not say everything when it taught us that he was the husband of Mary?” –Blessed William Joseph Chaminade
Saint Joseph, as I look at your life, open my eyes and heart to who you really were and what you really did for Mary, your wife, and Jesus, your adopted son. Amen.
Image credit: Guy FLEURY/CIRIC