Comments: Joseph was an old man

I haven't been able to attend our monthly service at the local nursing home as many times this year as I would have liked. Invariably I find this service to be the one where I am most 'at home'. It's a place of great beauty.

Posted by Pam at Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 11:07am GMT

Brilliant. Thank you.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 11:14am GMT

Beautiful reflection. Thank you. But the idea of Joseph was an old man? This denies the full humanity of the holy family into which Jesus was born, and was surely invented out of the need to ensure that Joseph could not be imagined as any attractive rival to God for Mary's devotion - or physical threat to her Virginity.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 4:42pm GMT

Beautiful, Jane.

Posted by andy gr at Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 7:35pm GMT

Thank you, Jane, for this lovely contribution to our understanding of how the frail and elderly can contribute to our understanding of the patience and love of God for ALL God's children - if only we are willing to share the experience of being alongside them in their declining days.

My pre-Christmas weeks have been spent visiting the elderly and dying of our parish in Aotearoa New Zealand (with the Vicar on Sabbatical, someone has to do it). I am always surprised by their ready acceptance of what can be done to reassure them of God's continuing care of them - both by the staff of their care homes and by the parish visitor in bringing the Sacraments.

I have been taught much in the way of patience, myself, by the humble acceptance of our darling oldies, whose faithfulness we need to honour by our attendance on them in their latter days. I anointed and said goodbye to one of them only yesterday and I'm glad to have done so. He died this morning. May Nick rest in peace and rise in glory, with the Christ he loved and believed

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 11:30pm GMT

The carol 'Joseph was an old man' was an expression of the need of the Church to explain how and why Jesus had brothers and sisters when ... surely he was the only son? Joseph as an old man had therefore had children from a previous marriage.

A fine piece of casuistry that prevails in some Church thinking to this day, but as David Runcorn says runs the risk of denying Jesus' full humanity.

Posted by Nicholas Henderson at Wednesday, 21 December 2016 at 11:53pm GMT

Thank you for this very poignant prophetic reflection. It helped me focus more deeply on the daily readings of the past three days from Luke's nativity stories beginning with Monday's reading from Luke 1:5-25, about Zechariah and Elizabeth, "both were well on in years." (REB).

I was reminded as well of many years of Christmas liturgies: the chaotic energetic crowded children's liturgy and pageant laid alongside bringing the sacrament to shut-ins, many of them frail and alone and lonely at home or in homes for special care.

The scripture that leaped to mind as I finished reading this was from the the epilogue of St. John, "Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (NIV)

A prophetic statement that is applicable to each of us if we live long enough, and as such a call to deepen our empathy and solidarity, both virtues grounded in incarnation.

Thanks so much, and a blessed nativity of our Lord.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 22 December 2016 at 2:12am GMT

The claim that 'Joseph was an old man' really arises from the problem that Joseph disappears from the Biblical account after the stories of Jesus' childhood. Where was he at the Crucifixion? Early Christians tended to assume - reasonably enough - that he was dead. They were also very likely aware of the ancient custom that an older husband would take a significantly younger wife, and quite possibly a succession of younger wives given maternal mortality in antiquity.

Debates about Jesus' siblings and the perpetual virginity of the BVM have of course continued throughout Christian history, but it is too cynical simply to claim that the 'Joseph was an old man' tradition is a means of evading the problem. It might equally be suggested that the evident discomfort some modern Christians have with this image reflects the unexamined cultural preconceptions of modern Western societies where age disparities in sexual relationships are viewed with varying degrees of discomfort and moral alarm.

Posted by rjb at Thursday, 22 December 2016 at 9:00am GMT

The nearly continuous view that 'brothers' refers to cousins did not require a particularly aged Joseph and is unlikely the reason for this depiction. Those who never claimed perpetual virginity also viewed the relatives as cousins.

Posted by cseitz at Thursday, 22 December 2016 at 12:22pm GMT

Man, what's with all this textual critical back and forth bah humbug? Canon Freeman's article is a gift. And the Cherry Tree Carol is lovely; I especially like the version by the St. Louis Jesuits. Merry Christmas to all!

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 22 December 2016 at 4:37pm GMT

Greek has separate words for "brother" (adelphos) and "cousin" (anepsios). While the conflation of the two concepts for Jesus has a long history, the distinction in terms has always made this interpretation somewhat problematic.

Posted by dr.primrose at Thursday, 22 December 2016 at 10:14pm GMT

Surely, the story of Mary's Conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit does NOT deny both the humanity and deity of Christ. He became 'fully human' of the full humanity of his mother, Mary. This should not take too great a leap of faith for, as Gabriel said: "Nothing is impossible for God".
True, or false?

A Joyful Christmas, everyone. Christus natus hodie!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 24 December 2016 at 4:54am GMT

The difficulty, Ron, is with the word "fully" in "fully human". To be fully human you need a set of genes from a mother and a father (well, you certainly did 2000 years ago). Equally the infancy narratives are compatible with a normal conception -- being "overshadowed by the power of the most high"etc does not have to mean that no human father as involved, but that the child so conceived was "special" from the start. Granted this is not the view of the Church.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Saturday, 24 December 2016 at 10:02am GMT

It is the Cherry Tree Carol that Canon Freeman references in the opening sentence I believe.
In the spirit of 12 days and all that, not too late one hopes, here is one version.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 30 December 2016 at 2:51pm GMT
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