Joseph the Forgotten One

This week at my church’s Advent service, I’ll be giving a meditation upon the life of Joseph. When it comes to the Christmas story, Joseph often gets hidden in the shadows of Mary and Jesus. This is somewhat understandable. Joseph has no speaking lines in any of the Gospel accounts. Mary is of course the one chosen to actually bear Jesus in her womb, so there is more focus upon her. And of course, Jesus is the true focus and mystery of the Advent and Christmas season. So Joseph hides in the shadows. But Joseph was chosen too. As surely as God chose Mary to bear His son, He chose Joseph, her betrothed husband, to be the earthly father for His son. It’s hard enough for any man to contemplate the burden of raising his own child, much less the child of someone else. And Joseph has the strangest parental burden laid on his shoulders–to father a son conceived in his wife by the Holy Spirit. He had no reference point for this. Sure, there had been other saints in the past who had conceived children with supernatural aid, but it had still been by the normal human relation between and man and a woman. Mary wasn’t even fully Joseph’s wife yet. The child was not from his body. And yet, he raised Jesus as his own.

The Bible doesn’t say much about Joseph, but what it does says more than we might realize. It says he was a “just” or “righteous” man (Luke 1:19). We can conclude from this that Joseph was a true Israelite, not just in body, but in the heart. He faithfully worshiped the God of Israel, followed after the Law, and awaited the promised Messiah. We also see that Joseph was a man of great compassion and mercy. For all he could know, Mary had betrayed him and committed adultery with another man. It was his right to accuse her before the community, and doing so would have brought death. But Joseph, perhaps ashamed and brokenhearted as he was, was “unwilling to put her to shame, [and] resolved to divorce her quietly.” Joseph balanced his own sense of righteousness with mercy, when he had Mary’s fate in his power, and could have condemned her. The final characteristic we see about Joseph relates to his encounters with angels. We see in Matthew’s account that he receives three angelic messages. The first told him to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own child. The second told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, away from Herod. The third told him to return to Israel after Herod was dead. In each instance, we are simply told that Joseph got up and obeyed. This is more complicated than it seems. In the first instance, Joseph was taking upon himself the monumental task of raising Jesus, and also taking upon himself the stigma related to Mary. Perhaps people looked down on Joseph as a coward for taking a stained woman. Perhaps people thought that he and Mary had been impure before they were fully joined in marriage. Joseph took this upon himself. In the second instance, Joseph willingly condemned himself to exile in a foreign land, leaving behind him his country and any safety net that might provide. He would have to find a way to provide for his family as an alien in Egypt. In the third instance, while returning to Israel may have been a joyous occasion, it may also have been accompanied with trepidation over whatever new political situation might emerge with Herod’s son taking the throne, and also having to return to Nazareth, where people would surely have remembered the strange events of years past. In all this, Joseph promptly and willingly obeyed God. He was faithful to the task God gave him, even thought it must have totally turned his life upside down.

Below I have included two of my favorite Christmas songs related to Joseph:

(Posted by Chris)

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~ by Michael on December 9, 2010.

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