Ah, Christmastime. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we always try to make this time of year as pleasant as humanly possible for our children don’t we? Why, I bet if the zombie apocalypse were to ever actually happen, we’d still be bending over backwards to make the season perfect for the kiddies. (Fair Warning: This short is a Walking Dead parody, so there’s a naughty word and more than a few zombie headshots.)
As a dad, I gotta say, Rick’s plight just hits home with me. The, um, parenting part that is, not the blowing out the brains of zombies bits. Real fathers just really want to do the best for their children. That’s true even when they’re not technically their real father. Just think of the inner turmoil Joseph went through trying to take care of his adopted son Jesus; struggling to find a place on that first Christmas so he wouldn’t have to be born in some alley, keeping him safe during their escape to Egypt, the day to day travails in providing for him during his childhood in Nazareth. And all the while knowing he wasn’t the biological father of the child he was raising.
In fact, Randall Smith, associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, wonders just in what sense Joseph could be considered Jesus’ ‘father’ at all? “The question is not an unimportant one theologically.” The professor writes, “In fact, because Jesus is called ‘the son of David,’ and according to both Matthew and Luke, it is through Joseph that Jesus’ lineage is traced back to David. ‘How can that be?’ My students want to know, when he wasn’t Jesus’ real father. ‘Define a real father,’ I tell them. And from there the conversation usually gets pretty interesting. The first thing to understand about Joseph’s fatherhood is that, unlike every other case where a man who has not had sex with his betrothed finds out she is pregnant, in Joseph’s situation, there is no other ‘biological’ father who stands in a separate relationship between him and his son – no human father who has another sort of connection to Jesus that he, Joseph, does not. There is no ‘other man,’ as it were, unless you count God, that is. But then again, we must always count God, mustn’t we? Who really gives life? As St. Augustine says in the Confessions (paraphrasing 1 Cor 3:6): we plant the seed, but God gives the growth. We do our part. But let’s be very clear: the miracle of life does not occur without God. We are merely ‘co-creators’ with Him, and not merely at the moment of conception, but at every moment thereafter as well. Joseph’s story reminds us that human fatherhood is in reality merely a ‘participation’ in the fatherhood of God. We do not create the new life. We are merely stewards – caretakers, as it were – of God’s holy gift of what is, fundamentally his son first and foremost. We are responsible before God for taking care of that precious life, but the child we are given is ultimately meant to serve God’s will, not ours.”
And that being the case, then it only makes sense that by extension our participation in God’s fatherhood expands to include how our society as a whole treats God’s gifts. Author John C. Wright, contemplating on today's Feast of the Holy Innocents, notes that “Hell hates children, and always has, and always will. You can estimate the health of a culture, its unwitting loyalty to Hell or Heaven, by seeing how that culture treats its infants. Does the culture expose unwanted babes to the elements as the pagans did? Or regard childbirth as a blessing, as the Jews did, and do? It behooves us to defy Hell by adoring and cherishing the more precious and most helpless of the lives among us.” I wonder how we’re doing with that as a society this Christmas season. Maybe it’s a little something to keep in mind as we file into mass this weekend and see that statue of the infant Jesus lying in the nativity scene.