“He was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame…” -Matthew 1:19
My sister recently received a Christmas card from a friend that included the line, “Most days I’m okay,” admitting how difficult the previous year had been for her. Moments of total honesty like this are rare amidst the typical glitter-covered, premium cardstock Christmas greetings filling the mailbox. There is a temptation to only report on the highlights of the previous year (and not the low points). In our annual family photos, we want our children perfectly posed and smiling sweetly. But the daily reality of our lives is messy, boogery, rambunctious chaos. Why sit demurely amidst the Christmas decorations when you could swim through the oversized ornaments with reckless abandon? Around the family Christmas table (or the office holiday party punch bowl) we can feel pressured to put on a perfect face. To minimize the struggles we face. The fear of shame is greater than the desire for meaningful encounters.
In today’s Gospel, Joseph tries to do the “right” thing that will save face and avoid scandal, while protecting Mary’s life and dignity. When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and confirms the deeper truths around Mary’s circumstances, the Lord is also calling Joseph to drag a scandalous situation into the light and claim it. To air the dirty laundry and take whatever grief may come in doing so.
The gift God has prepared for Joseph is beyond anything he could possibly imagine. Sometimes the righteous response means looking beyond the written law to the spirit, recognizing the deeper truth. Our Catholic tradition is filled with examples of saints, and other holy men and women, who protest unjust laws or practices. Those who face ridicule, arrest, and even martyrdom for standing with the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. It’s earnestly attempting to connect with the family members with whom we normally have conflict.
Sometimes wrestling fear is as futile as wrangling a toddler into fancy clothes for a picture. What if we stopped allowing that fear to control us?
Are there aspects of myself (or my beliefs) that I’m fearful of allowing others to see? What might it look like to live from a place of greater freedom, and less shame?