Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Beginning of Sorrows: Joseph and Mary

A few days ago I offered a quotation from Whyte's sermon "That Holy Thing," in Jesus Christ Our Lord: His Walk, Conversation and Character (1953). Today, I would like to offer a few quotes from his sermon "Joseph and Mary," in Bible Characters: Joseph and Mary to James, The Lord's Brother (4th ed.; London: Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, nd).

On a thousand sacred canvases throughout Christendom we are shown the angel of the annunciation presenting Mary with a branch of lily as an emblem of her beauty and as a seal of her purity. But why has no spiritual artist stained the whiteness of the lily with the red blood of a broken heart? For no sooner had the transfiguring light of the angel's presence faded from her sight than a deep and awful darkness began to fall upon Joseph's espoused wife. Surely if ever a suffering soul had to seek all its righteousness and all its strength in God alone, it was the soul of the Virgin Mary in those terrible days that followed the annunciation. Blessed among women as all the time she was; unblemished in soul and in body like the paschal lamb as she was; like the paschal lamb also she was set apart to be a divine sacrifice, and to have a sword thrust through her heart. Mary must have passed through many dark and dreadful days when all she had given her to lean upon would seem like a broken reed. Hail, though that art highly favoured of the Lord, the angel said to her. But all that would seem but so many mocking works to her as she saw nothing before her but an open shame, and, it might well be, an outcast's death. ... Great is the mystery of godliness: God manifest in the flesh. A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. These are the beginnings of sorrows. (pp. 1-2)

Joseph's part in all this is told us by Saint Matthew alone. Alone as we read that Evangelist's particular account of that time, we see how sharp that sword was which pierced Joseph's soul also. His heart was broken with this terrible trial, but there was only one course left open to him. Conclude the marriage he could not, but neither could he consent to make Mary a public example, and there was only left to him the sad step of revoking the contract and putting her away privately. Joseph's heart must have been torn in tow. For Mary had been the woman of all women to him. She had been in his eyes the lily among thorns. And now to have to treat her like a poisonous weed--the thought of it drove him mad. Oh, why is it that whosoever comes at all near Jesus Christ has always to drink such a cup of sorrow? Truly they who are brother or sister or mother to Him must take up their cross daily. These are they who go up through great tribulation. (pp. 2-3)
This chapter is included in the recent edition published by Christian Focus Publications: Alexander Whyte, Bible Characters: People from the New Testament (CFP, 2003) [CFP | Amazon | CBD]