Joseph’s Story

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I wonder if Joseph ever felt like a third wheel? Almost everything we know about him is in relation to someone else. He is an ancestor of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-17).  He is engaged to be married to Mary. He is the one an angel appears to and warns him to rescue his family from the death decree of Herod. He is the carpenter who taught The Carpenter from Nazareth.  When the boy Jesus disappears from the family vacation and is found teaching in the temple, it is his mother who talks to him. Joseph? Maybe a man of few words?

Joseph disappears without explanation from the Gospel story. By the time Jesus appears to be baptized by John in the wilderness, about 30 years later, it  is assumed that Joseph has died. But we do not know how he died, where he is buried, nor what kind of consequences Mary and Jesus and the other children in the family faced.

The story is about Jesus. The virgin birth is an essential part of that story, thus Mary is an essential part of that story. But Joseph is hardly an inconsequential character in the birth narratives. Joseph’s story is also amazing. Perplexed, but faithful, Joseph made choices that are to be admired by disciples of all ages. Taking a look at Matthew 1:18-25, here are some observations about Joseph.

Joseph was a believer caught in a heartbreaking circumstance. Haven’t we seen this story on The Jerry Springer Show? Young couple engaged to be married  … the woman is now pregnant … she’s never slept with her fiancé … who is the baby daddy? I know that sounds irreverent but we can’t play down the scandalous nature of this situation. In the initial hours after Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy, what do you think was going through his mind? His decision gives you some insight.

Joseph was a man with a gentle heart and genuine love for Mary. How many men would react as did Joseph? He had no desire to disgrace Mary. That would have been easy enough. I’m sure even without Joseph’s help the community around them were coming up with their own stories and the gossip was making it’s way to willing ears. But for his part, Joseph planned to make this as painless as possible. No doubt through his tears and broken heart … through disappointment and disillusionment.

Joseph was a man with an open spirit to hear a word from the Lord. If anyone would have a hard time believing the story that Mary tells, Joseph would be chief among them. Even God realized the need to be proactive in addressing this situation. There’s something about the angel’s message to Joseph that tells me that God was intensively interested in Joseph’s well being.

“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.” ~Matthew 1:20-21

Matthew references Isaiah’s famous prophecy.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. ~Isaiah 7:14

Joseph is not mentioned there either.

Joseph was a man who was committed to serving the Lord. It was an unbelievable message that at first broke his heart. But after hearing from God, Joseph demonstrated what he was made of and took Mary as his wife. Is there anyone who thinks this was easy? The guys down on the corner – they’re calling him names and shaking their heads. His parents? They are trying to talk him out of it. The community? They are staring him down as he walks down the street … hand in hand with Mary. But Mary and Joseph have had secret meetings with God, and they are content to follow Him. The baby was born and Joseph did as he was told. He named him Jesus.

I think it is important that Joseph loved and took care of Mary. But I’m not so sure it was anything Joseph did that made him special. It was the kind of believer he was. What I don’t know about him isn’t nearly so important as what I do know. Even so, he is not the star of this story. We won’t be singing songs about him this week. His presence is visible in the nativity scenes, but no one is looking at him. All eyes are where they should be. On the babe.

I happen to believe that if Joseph could speak to us today he would deflect any attention given to him and instead point to the most amazing story ever told.

Who, being in very nature God,did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
~Philippians 2:6-11

Merry Christmas!

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