Sunday 16 December 2018

Pause In Advent #3 - The Tear In His Eye

The third of our lovely UCF Angel pictures painted by Martha shows the angel coming to Joseph.
Like the other three pictures in this series, I have found that the longer I look at what appears to be a 'simple' piece of art, the more I see within it. Martha has worked hard to include to much of the Biblical narrative.
  • Mary's hand resting upon her swollen belly.  
  • The intertwined wedding rings being supported by the angel as well as the couple.
  • The left arm of the angel raised towards Joseph. That little detail of the tear in Joseph's eye.
In the late great Eugene Peterson's contemporary translation "The Message", he tells this story [Matthew 1:18-24] thus...
The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.
  • Mary is pregnant, but he knows it is not his child. I love the description of this man "chagrined but noble" - yes maybe humiliated, but somehow he maintains his dignity and seeks to prevent his fiancee from disgrace. The angel reassures him that this child is from God.
  • But the angel says "Don't hesitate to marry her" - this sense of Divine support for their union.
  • The angel makes God's commands clear - and Joseph obeys
But the tear in his eye...
  • is it a tear of frustration because his ideal dream of 'a white wedding' [or whatever the contemporary equivalent was back then] has gone out of the window?
  • maybe a tear of remorse that he ever doubted Mary's fidelity?
  • or sorrow, because he realises that this little family will have a hard road to travel?
  • perhaps a tear of relief, that with God's help, everything will somehow come right in the end?
  • possibly even a tear of joy, because at last the longed-for Messiah will be born, and God has chosen him to be part of this amazing event?
I have not asked Martha why she drew the teardrop - it is a challenge to consider all the possiblities. I think art should leave you wondering. In London last month, I visited Tate Modern with my 3 girls, I went into the Crying Room installation. The other occupant, a slightly younger woman, started a conversation about an article she'd read which claimed the chemical makeup of our tears changes, dependent on the situation we are in.
Petersen interprets Psalm 56;8 thus You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.
Like Joseph, I take comfort from the truth that God sees every tear, whether joyful or sorrowful, and He will be with me all the way.


  1. It's interesting that the artist depicted Joseph with a tear in his eye. I, too, wonder what it was meant to represent.

  2. I've never seen this and such a meaningful painting!

  3. Poor Joseph, the often overlooked person in the Christmas story. I like the idea that the tear painted on his face was perhaps because he foresaw the hard road ahead.


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