From: All God’s Angels
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. (Matthew 1:18-21; 2:13-15, 19)
Perhaps only as he slept would Joseph be still enough to hear the angel’s gentle whisper. Angels do not always come in the midst of a day’s busy activity. Sometimes they must wait until we have shut down our racing thoughts and laid our stressed-out bodies to rest. Matthew tells us that Joseph was faced with a momentous decision: What was this man of honor and compassion to do with his betrothed now that she was bearing the child of another? He would have been justified in publicly renouncing her, canceling the marriage, and putting her to shame. And what of his own personal feelings of shame, of grief, and perhaps even of anger? He thinks he has come up with a solution – but it is not Heaven’s solution. So it is when Joseph is asleep and least able to resist the incredible that God’s angel speaks to him an otherwise unthinkable thought.
He through whom the angels and all of creation came into being entrusts his own fragile birth in the flesh to these same angels. Saint John Chrysostom said that in the period of the Old Covenant God set all things in motion through the angels, and that nothing was working out well. Nevertheless, God’s work in the world was far from over. The angels now had their all-important role to play in the New Covenant, not the least of which was to recruit the support and obedience of some key players, like Mary and Zechariah and Joseph. Was there a time when the angels were briefed on the incredible events to come but still, like the unknowing world, had to wait in expectation? Could this particular angel (some say it was Gabriel again) hardly wait until the night when he would visit Joseph and speak the name of Jesus into his ear?
Later, after the birth, another dream, another angel. Or perhaps it was the same angel as in Joseph’s first dream. Then, “take Mary as your wife” – now, “flee to Egypt.” Specific directions given for a specific purpose – to bring into this dark world the incarnate Light of Heaven, and to keep that Light from being snuffed out at its most vulnerable beginnings. Joseph was to be the Father’s chief ally in this effort, and the angel was to be his courier. The cupola of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, contains a mosaic detail representing this dream. Joseph is depicted asleep on a bare rock, his head propped up in one hand as if his slumber would be brief, breaking his watchfulness for only a few moments. His face is lifted toward Heaven. The angel holding a scroll inscribed with the instruction to flee seems to be gliding down from the sky, his wings and robes virtually fluttering with excitement. Upon his own face appears the faintest of smiles as he lifts one hand and gestures to Joseph as if to say, “Pay attention, now, just as you did before. Here is the next step.”