Matthew 2:13 - When [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."
Tucked away in the middle of Lent is a largely overlooked commemoration. In both eastern and western Christianity, Joseph - the husband of Mary - is remembered on March 19th each year as St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord. The Latin original of his title is nutritor Domini, which makes me wonder why it has been translated "guardian," when the Latin verb nutrio really connotes feeding, nourishing, and supporting - hence our English word "nutrition." I suppose that the sense of "guardian" or "protector" could have been something like tueor Domini. In any case, when I think of Joseph I also like to think of him as somnior Domini - "dreamer" of our Lord. To begin with, one can hardly read these passages in Matthew 1 and 2 without being reminded of a previous Joseph whose dreams landed him in Egypt and under the wrath (at first) of the great king (see Genesis 37-50). Scripture sometimes repeats details of old stories as a way of showing a positive connection to the tradition and other times as a way of showing contrast to that old story. In this case, it's a bit hard to tell. There are hints in the Christian interpretive tradition that Joseph - while revered as a patriarch - was occasionally thought of as the one who got Israel into its slavery mess in the first place by inviting the whole family to relocate to Egypt during the Caananite famine (Gen. 45). Furthermore, neither the narrator of the Genesis passage nor Joseph himself ever claimed that his fanciful dreams of dominance over his brothers came from God (Gen. 37). In other words, if Patriarch Joseph wasn't necessarily such a great guy after all, Matthew may be telling his story of Joseph of Nazareth in such a way as to feature the differences between the two, with Mary's betrothed retracing the steps of his patriarchal namesake to Egypt and back, but doing it right this time. In this way it allowed Jesus himself to become the fullest possible participant in the depths of Israel's long history, following the path through slavery back to freedom, even as an infant. It could be considered Matthew's parallel to the hymn about the condescension of Jesus in Philippians 2.
I also like Joseph as somnior Domini because it tells me of his own willingness to set aside what he thought was an easily determined path of righteousness (Matt. 1:19) for the sake of a divine redirection. How receptive are we to God's redirection? When we hold onto something we are sure is right or about which we may even be downright passionate, do we allow the dreams God has provided for us to alert us to other possibilities? Do we allow God's "angels" to guide us to "do not be afraid" (Matt. 1:20), or to send us toward our destination "by another road" (Matt. 2:12), or to compel us even to "flee" (Matt. 2:13)? Bits of guidance like this may be contrary to our intuition, and the angels may not take the form we expect, so we must of course be careful and discerning, but a fundamental openness to being led by God's promptings can sometimes involve us in what may end up being a very significant and powerful mission.
Joseph of Nazareth, of all the saints, holds one quite striking distinction: He is the only saint who - tradition says - was attended at his death both by the earthly Virgin Mary and the earthly Jesus. He died in their arms, we are told. So we hope for all who dare to dream of being spoken to by God. A blessed St. Joseph's Day to all!
O God, from the family of your servant David you raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the husband of his blessed mother. Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.