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Nativity Scene

With the Jubilee Year of Mercy ending last Sunday and the season of Advent beginning today, I thought I would resurrect this post from December of 2013.  As we begin preparing ourselves for the birth of Jesus, the following perspective of what might have been going through Joseph’s mind and heart in the days before that blessed event serves perfectly to bridge the gap between the Year of Mercy and Advent.  In his song Forgiveness is a Miracle (A Song for Joseph), Jason Gray paints for us a profound example of the mercy that was offered by Joseph, and, in the last verse, gives us insight into the divine wisdom of God.

When I originally posted this I did not include a link to the lyric video of the song. I am including it here Forgiveness is a Miracle (A Song for Joseph) so you can actually hear the song and feel the meaning within. I hope you enjoy it and that it helps you prepare your heart to be offered as a gift to our Lord on His birthday. Let me know what you think.

God bless you and may this be your best Advent ever!

A Man of Mercy  (Reprinted from 5 December 2013)

About this time last year I was listening to a new CD I had purchased by my new favorite singer/songwriter, Jason Gray.  The CD is called Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.  One particular song on it, “Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)”, caught my attention because it was so different from any other Christmas song I had ever heard.  Plus, its subject was something which I had never considered:  what was going through Joseph’s mind and heart prior to, and during, his wife giving birth to not his son, but Jesus, the Son of God?

I discovered that Jason Gray had written an article for The Rabbit Room describing the story behind the song and he explores this difficult situation in which Joseph found himself.  I have re-posted his article below and included a link to The Rabbit Room’s website.  I hope you find it as thought provoking as I did.


Joseph manger stained glass

The Story Behind “Forgiveness Is a Miracle”

by Jason Gray on October 16, 2012

As I approached writing songs for each of the characters in the Christmas story, I felt particularly protective of Joseph, who I think sometimes doesn’t get the attention he’s due. At the very least I know that I’ve been guilty of not really “seeing” him for the remarkable man that he was, and I wanted to amend that. I enlisted my friend Andy Gullahorn, one of the most masterful storytellers I know, to explore a particular moment in Joseph’s story with me.

Taking my cue from Frederick Buechner’s book, “Peculiar Treasures,” in which he breathes new life into biblical characters who have grown so familiar to us that we no longer experience them as real human beings, I hoped to recapture some of the humanity of the people in the Christmas narrative. It was also important to me to try and write songs that were relevant beyond the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. I wanted to tell timeless human stories, and with Joseph we have the makings of just that with a love triangle, a question of revenge or forgiveness, and the age old drama of fathers and sons.

As I read his part in the narrative, I found that more than just a foster parent without much to do (as he was often relegated to in my mind), Joseph is revealed as a man after God’s own heart. Faced not only with the news that his fiancée is pregnant, but also with her incredulous story of how it was God’s doing, Joseph’s character is tested and laid out for all of us to see. What will he do? Will he hurt the one who has hurt him? Will he forgive? This is his moment, and all of history waits and watches in wonder.

There are few things more painful than the betrayal and rejection by the one you love most, so we know it must have deeply wounded him—shattering the dreams he may have had of a future with the girl he loved. Pain is like a lightning bolt striking with a violent energy that can’t be held in the human heart for long. It looks for a way out. The way it usually passes through us is in the all too common progression of hurt turning into anger and then into vengeance. Unless the miracle of forgiveness takes place in a person’s heart to absorb it, the pain we experience will pass through us and be visited upon others.

There is debate as to whether it was within Joseph’s power to have her stoned—while Jewish custom might have allowed it, Roman rule did not. However, if not to her body, we know he still could have done violence to her reputation and her heart. But I believe that Joseph did the hard work of bringing his pain to God rather than letting it pass through him, and that God graced him with the miracle of forgiveness. The narrative tells us he was a “godly man” and that instead of doing her harm, “he decided to dismiss her quietly” so that she wouldn’t be publicly shamed. He took the full force of the blow and–acting as the husband he might have been–became a covering over her supposed sin.

It’s hard for us to experience the tension in Joseph’s story since, as the reader, we know from the start that she isn’t guilty of what he naturally supposes and that God is up to something beautiful that the world has never seen before. But to see Joseph for who he is, I have to remember that he couldn’t know these things in real time. It was only after he had given himself to the work of forgiveness that the angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him that what Mary had said was true after all, and that he should marry her.

It occurred to me that perhaps this is where Joseph’s heart was proven—if not to God who already knew his heart, then perhaps to himself. (I haven’t met a man yet who isn’t daunted by the responsibility of being a father, let alone a father to the Son of God. Maybe this was a test to reveal to Joseph what kind of man he could be.) In this moment he is found to be a man of mercy, which I imagine to be just the kind of man that God was looking for to be the earthly father of his son Jesus. In a way, we see that Joseph carries in his heart the same world changing power of forgiveness that Mary carried in her womb.

It’s also meaningful to me to think of how Joseph forgiving Mary is part of the story that leads to the birth of the savior in whom Joseph would find forgiveness for his own sins. Perhaps it’s the narrative form of Jesus’ teaching that as we forgive we find ourselves forgiven.

As we wrote the song, it was good to be reminded that forgiveness is a kind of miracle. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that we can muster up forgiveness on our own. It seems to me to be a supernatural force of renewal that we participate in as we point our hearts toward it, pray for it, and make room for it in our lives, but that ultimately we receive it as a gift from God, in his due time.

Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)

Jason Gray / Andy Gullahorn

from Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy

Love can make a soul come alive

Love can draw a dream out of the darkness

And blow every door open wide

But love can leave you broken hearted

Did she dare to look you in the eye

Did her betrayal leave you raging?

Did you let her see you cry

When she said the child was not your baby?

Pain can turn to anger then to vengeance

It happens time and again

Even in the best of men

It takes a miracle to save us

When love is like an open wound

There’s no way to stop the bleeding

Did you lose sleep over what to do?

Between what’s just and what brings healing

Pain can be a road to find compassion

When we don’t understand, and bring a better end

It takes a miracle to show us

Forgiveness is a miracle

A miracle

And a miracle can change your world

Forgiveness is a miracle

An angel in a dream spoke into your darkest night

So you trusted in the Lord and you took her as your wife

But the forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you

Because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb

Love was in a crowded barn

There you were beside her kneeling

You held it in your arms

As the miracle started breathing

Forgiveness is the miracle

The miracle

And a miracle will change your world

Forgiveness is the miracle

Forgiveness is the miracle

The miracle

A miracle will save the world

Forgiveness is the miracle

Forgiveness is the miracle

Forgiveness is the miracle

Blessed Joseph

Your heart is proven

And through you the Kingdom has come

For God delights in a man of mercy

And has found an earthly father for his son

(From the Archives: A Man of Mercy was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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