In these last days of Advent, daylight is short, the weather is cold, and we are weary of the stress and hustle and bustle of preparing for the holidays. In The Dream of Saint Joseph by Anton Raphael Mengs (1773), we meet the sleeping Joseph, who dozes off at his workbench. He is worn out, like we might be these days. His sleep is heavy with the burden of heartbreak and hard decisions, his dreams haunted by the fading hope of a life and family that might not be. His cloak and dark garments weigh on his shoulders as if to symbolize his burden.
Into his dark and heavy sleep enters the light of an angel. The angel illuminates the scene with a lightness to her whole being—an image to balance Joseph’s burden. She is light, she is hope, she is assurance, she is direction, and she is purpose. Her finger points boldly into the darkest corner of the scene as if to say: This, your deepest and darkest fear and worry, is where the Good News of Jesus Christ will meet you. Do not be afraid.
For Joseph, his greatest burden will become his greatest blessing. His dream is a consolation to us all in these darkest days of the year, whether we experience the darkness externally or internally. The light of Christ will shine to dispel the darkness—where in your life do you yearn for it most?
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.