We don’t talk about Joseph very much. We mention him, and every nativity scene has a Joseph, but when you come right down to it, Joseph wasn’t one of the “superstars” of Christmas.
We know a fair amount of information about Joseph. He was a carpenter by trade, not a particularly high-class profession. In today’s American society, Joseph would be a basic blue-collar sort of hard-working guy. He’d wear jeans, a plaid shirt, and a ball cap, and drive a pickup truck. He’d be an “average Joe” (forgive the pun). The Bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, meaning that he always tried to do the right thing. A man of integrity. The kind of guy that I’d like to have work for me.
Imagine what it must have been like for Joseph when he learned that his beloved Mary was pregnant. She claimed to be a virgin, but ‘ol Joe knew that you don’t get pregnant by shaking hands. He felt betrayed. Somehow, I can picture him slamming the door on his truck, droppping it into gear, and spinning his tires as he left Mary’s place.
When you value integrity, it really hurts to question the integrity of someone you love. Joe’s love for Mary made him decide that, rather than the public spectacle to which He was entitled by law, He would quietly and privately sever his relationship, and let Mary try to maintain some sense of dignity. But, ‘ol Joe was also a man of God. When God talked, Joe listened—and when God directed, Joe obeyed:
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Mat 1:19-25 NIV)
God spoke, and Joseph obeyed; but it must have been difficult for him. The child that would be legally attributed to him, as his first-born, was not even his child.
Joseph accepted the role to which God called him. He was, essentially, Jesus’ foster father, taking full responsibility for a child that he did not father, and even honored Mary’s virginity until after the birth. He participated in the naming, circumcision, and dedication of this child, as though it were his own. He provided nurture, training, and support to the growing boy, and although Joseph’s blood didn’t flow through Jesus’ veins, he was very much a dad to the child born to be his Messiah.
As an adoptive father myself, I can identify with Joseph on a very special level. I understand the special love and caring bond that must have grown between father and son during Jesus’ formative years. Many of the life experiences that later appeared in Jesus’ parables were probably learned at Joseph’s side.
But, Joseph doesn’t get a lot of publicity when we talk about Christmas. Solid, stable, steadfast “salt of the earth” guys like Joseph seldom get to bask in the spotlight, but are frequently responsible for keeping it lit. As he heard Jesus’ first cries in that stable, Joe knew he was a part of something much bigger than himself, and was thankful that God had let him be there and participate. He did his part, and let the spotlight shine where it belonged—on Jesus.
We could use a few more guys like ‘ol Joe, couldn’t we?