The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is the most awe-inspiring, glorious event in history. Christians recognise and celebrate this as the central event of history. However, what can sometimes go unnoticed is how Jesus’ coming was announced and prepared for throughout the ages: God in his loving kindness never abandoned his creation and humankind. Instead, God cared for them, progressively taught and led them in such a way as to prepare them for his coming “in the fullness of time”.
In the unfolding of the story there are great characters and perennial lessons to be learnt. Some figures and scenes are especially familiar to us – but whether or not we are familiar with the general thrust of the storyline, these accounts deserve to be looked at more closely and pondered. The story of Joseph is forever vivid in our minds, closely associated with his coat of many colours. Joseph is rejected and mistreated by his brothers, sold into slavery and taken off to Egypt. Amongst the many lessons, we are shown the path of forgiveness and the providential care of God – nothing is impossible to him, everything can be taken up and brought to bear fruit. The account in Genesis develops many stages, which lead to a situation where the brothers, driven by famine, come in search of grain to Egypt and the house of Pharoah. With great drama, the saga culminates in Joseph revealing himself and forgiving his siblings. Furthermore, Joseph declares that although his brothers had intended to harm him, God intended to bring good from the situation and to save many (Genesis 45:5). Joseph’s stunning declaration can encourage us in our own lives.
The story of course foreshadows the great story of redemption: the saving work of Jesus. For us today, we can be encouraged and strengthened in hope: nothing is beyond the reach of grace. We may see the signs of brokenness and woundedness in ourselves and others; we may be confronted with difficult situations. However, we can always have hope, and place our trust in the Lord and ask for his grace, take the step and do what is ours to do. The story of Joseph, and how it fits within the greater plan of salvation is one which can be a source of great encouragement for us today.
Some two thousand years later, we commemorate how that story of salvation unfolded and led to the birth of Our Lord. We recall with wonder and gratitude how Jesus was born to his mother Mary, in Bethlehem. But, not only do we cast our minds back and remember that past event. Today, as Christians, we are called to recognise that Jesus came and also to dare to claim that He had future generations in mind. He is not some impersonal saviour of the masses: Jesus came for me, for you. He awaits and indeed longs for each one of us to know his saving love and welcome him with trust.
[Top Right] Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari 'Joseph's Coat Brought to Jacob', oil on canvas, c. 1640.
[Bottom Right] Bl. Fra Angelico. Christ in Judgement (detail from the vault, Orvieto Cathedral)