The Two Annunciations of Joseph
Mary had one Annunciation. Joseph had two because, well—in the spiritual realm, men need two shots.
His first annunciation did not come via angel. It was his fiancé announcing a big problem. God had told her all about it, directly, and he had to hear it through her. His job, it seems, is to go along, be the Good Provider. A carpenter, he is just the guy to build a changing table in the nursery. But he isn’t a primary character in Luke’s story. In fact, the virginal conception seems to render him irrelevant, disposable.
Many men feel this way about the deeply mysterious aspect of human life. They sense that this all belongs to the distaff side, and if they know it at all, it is mediated to them by a woman. Until they are initiated into the spiritual realm, usually by some encounter with death and a lasting wound to show for it, men usually depend on women to connect them to the sacred mysteries: love, sex and death.
In his first annunciation, I believe this indirect, hand-me-down experience is the level on which Joseph lives. It’s not bad or wrong, it’s just how men tend to begin their foray into that space between the material and the spiritual realms. And if we had only Luke’s Christmas story, that is the level where Joseph would be stuck.
But here Matthew intervenes. In his telling (1:20), after the second-hand announcement that ushers him into chaos and confusion, Joseph receives his own Annunciation. An unnamed angel appears to him in a dream, calms his fear and anger, and tells him not to waver from the marriage. A man attuned to his dreams is in touch with his own soul. He is no longer dependent on a woman to see into the spirit world. He has third-eye vision. Going forward, it is Joseph’s dream (2:13) that drives the holy family into Egypt to escape Herod’s bloodthirst. Again he dreams (2:22) and changes their return journey from Bethlehem to Nazareth, saving the life of Mary and the son that God has strangely given him.
The Joseph version of the Christmas story invites men to step fully into the authority of their own inner life. And women? Perhaps it invites women to require this of their men.