Other than the Christ-child, who comes to mind when you think of the manger scene? Hey – you can even throw in the Magi’s visit and stick them next to the shepherds. Which of these characters is celebrated in song and story? Yup – pretty much everyone. Even that little kid with the snare drum (how’d he get here?) But wait a minute – who is that kind-faced gentleman hovering over Mary? He’s not really following the all-is-calm motif… he keeps doing things to make Mary comfortable and checking to see if the baby is okay and he REALLY gave the stare-down and third-degree to those shepherds before letting them in to see the baby. Who is THAT guy? That’d be Joseph. He didn’t get a song. But don’t you dare underestimate him. I think he’s pretty important. I think God thought Joseph was important. And, whether the babe in the manger knew it or not, even Jesus needed a Joseph.
A few long months before the events of this evening, Joseph got some pretty unexpected news on the way home from the carpentry shop. Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-25). Before they came together, she was found to be pregnant – by the Holy Spirit (at least that is what Mary claimed). But here is where we learn something about this unsung tradesman, he was just (righteous), and yet did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace. Justice, here, would have allowed, even required, for Joseph to give her a certificate of divorce, stating the reason, and then Mary would have been publically scorned, and then possibly, publically stoned (Duet. 22:22). But Joseph, who by all appearances was the one sinned against, chose NOT seek revenge. God didn’t have to intervene and stop Joseph from condemning Mary. Joseph himself chose to be merciful. There was plenty riding on how Joseph responded to Mary. Joseph chose mercy. Mercy persuaded judgment and gave birth to redemption.
Now, of course, an angel showed up to further encourage Joseph to stay on course, that all was as Mary said, and this child was of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph accepted the challenge. He knew what was coming. He knew what could be said about him, about his young betrothed bride, and about this mysterious child in her womb. But Joseph was no coward. He accepted his commission from Heaven to be the caretaker of this family. God trusted Joseph with the salvation of the planet.
We don’t know how long Joseph was with Jesus. We just don’t hear much more about Joseph after Jesus is 12. Somewhere it seems Joseph passed away before Jesus began his public ministry. But his contribution to Jesus’ life, I suspect, was not limited to being a tour-guide-to-Bethlehem. Having observed Joseph’s exceptional character and conduct, consider this: Where did Jesus first learn about mercy, kindness, loyalty, and trust? Where would Jesus’ little brother James learn that “mercy triumphs over judgment”? (James 2:13) Why do you think Jesus did what His mother wanted, even if it wasn’t on his schedule (John 2:1-11). How was it that Jesus knew that fathers knew how to give good gifts to their children? (Matthew 7:9-11) I think it was because Jesus had a Joseph. God chose Joseph just as much as He chose Mary. Jesus was divine, and studied the scriptures, but I believe he still learned plenty from His daddy. Even Jesus needed a Joseph.
Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas