We find the theme of Joseph’s doubt (Mt 1:18-19) in the offices of Christmas, as well as on the icon of the Nativity. The Devil, the Tempter, has taken on the appearance of this bent, old man, covered with animal skins. Joseph listens, his head bowed, deep in gloom, feeling crushed. Parallel to this, the liturgy reveals to us the various stages of doubt that Joseph undergoes. He vanquishes it, he says, because of the prophets. He who bases himself on Scripture receives revelation from God: an angel opens his eyes and allows him to see the truth.
The doubt of Joseph about the virginal conception of the Infant-God is still shared today by many. How can we believe in this miracle? Can reason possibly admit such an overturning of nature? The search for God through the study of sacred texts often brings revelation, as it did to Joseph. God grants faith to those persons of good will who study the Scriptures.
Joseph spoke thus to the Virgin:
“What is this doing that I see in you?
I do not understand and I am amazed,
and my mind is struck with dismay.
Depart from me quickly.
What is this doing, O Mary, that I see in you?
Instead of honour, you bring me shame,
instead of gladness, sorrow,
instead of praise, you bring me reproof.
I can no longer bear the reproach of men,
for I received you from the priests of the temple,
as one blameless before the Lord”.
(First Royal Hour, eve of Christmas, sticheron, tone 8)
“Tell us, Joseph: The young girl you received from the sanctuary,
how is it that you bring her to Bethlehem great with child?”
“I have searched the prophets,” he said, “and have been told by and angel:
I believe that Mary will give birth to God in ways passing understanding;
and that magi from the East will come to worship Him and will bring Him gifts”.
(Third Royal Hour, eve of Christmas, sticheron, tone 3)
O Virgin, when Joseph went up to Bethlehem wounded by sorrow, you cried to him:
“Why are you downcast and troubled when you see me great with child?
Why are you so totally ignorant of the fearful mystery taking place in me?
Now cast aside every fear and understand this strange marvel:
In my womb God now descends to earth and takes on flesh for mercy’s sake.
When he is born, you shall see him according to his good pleasure.
Full of joy, you shall worship him as your creator.
The angels praise him in song without ceasing,
and they glorify him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
(Ninth Royal Hour, eve of Christmas, sticheron, tone 2)
source: The Feasts of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, vol.1, The Incarnate God, Saint Vladimir’s Seminar Press