It’s A Boy!
Every year the manger scene comes out, and you have to arrange the various figures in it. Of course Baby Jesus is in the middle, and Mary is next to him with a halo, and there are cuddly animals over there. The shepherds have drawn near with beaming faces, having just seen a choir of angels whose song is still ringing in their ears. But where is Joseph? He’s at the back, behind a bale of hay. You never know where to put him. And there’s something to that, because he is a figure who recedes from view easily.
In contrast to Mary, Joseph is a very quiet individual. Mary talks a lot. You always know what she was thinking. When she heard Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting, she broke out in praise of God. At one point in Jesus’ public ministry Mary thought he had become deranged. She was the quintessential Jewish mother;
it seems to me. I think she was a powerful personality and an expressive person. But there’s no recorded statement by Joseph anywhere in the New Testament.
Joseph almost certainly died before Jesus’ ministry. We know that he was alive when Jesus was twelve. There’s a scene that takes place when Jesus goes into the temple in Jerusalem and confounds the teachers; and his parents, not knowing what has become of him, search for him for days before they find him. Even then, his mother is the one who quizzes him. “What in the world do you think you’re doing?” Joseph doesn’t say anything.
There are three things we can tell about Joseph from Matthew. The first is his tenderness of heart. Matthew says that “Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together…was found to be with child.” We’re sure he was not able to talk with Mary about her condition. He learned of her pregnancy without being informed of its meaning. It may have been during the time when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth in Judea during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, when she was newly pregnant herself. Joseph cannot have concluded anything else except that his wife preferred someone else to him, that she had rejected him and had a lover. This was the woman he loved and had intended to marry. Yet he looked for a way to end their betrothal and allow her to move on with her life without humiliating her. His instincts were tenderhearted. He wanted to be a blessing to someone else even when he was hurt and angry.
The second thing we observe about Joseph is that he was “a righteous man.” He cared about what God cared about. The way of God was foremost for him. He must have been a man who worshiped often and prayed deeply, who acted on truth when he learned it. That’s what it means to be righteous.
Finally, he was an obedient man; “Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him....” There are three times in Matthew 1 and 2 when Joseph gets a word from an angel to do something, and the very next line all three times is, “He got up and did what the Lord commanded.”
All of these things must have figured into God’s choice for him to be the human father of the divine Son: tenderheartedness, a love of righteousness, and a willingness to obey.
The accounts of Jesus’ birth present a story without parallel, an event of unique beauty and significance. We find a way in the midst of the familiar themes of Christmas to reclaim the opportunity: “Come, let us adore Him!”. As a last thought, let us praise Joseph. He was God’s choice of father for his own Son, and his example can be life-changing and challenging for us.