Upon watching the film ‘The Nativity Story’ – I was really struck by the portrayal of Joseph. On the whole we know so little about him from the Gospels that it’s nice to stretch our imaginations sometimes and wonder what he must have been like and the influence he would have had upon Jesus as he was growing up. So, with just under 2 weeks until Christmas, let’s look at the circumstances in which the Son of God entered into the world, but not concentrate so much on the mystery of Christ becoming human, but focusing instead on Joseph – the man God chose to be his Son’s foster-father.
What we know about him is that he was a descendent of David from the southern village of Bethlehem, and that he was a carpenter who at some stage, moved about 80 miles north and plied his trade in Nazareth, a ordinary village in the region of Galilee. There he became engaged to a young woman, Mary. Tradition suggests that he may have been much older than Mary, and probably died before Jesus commenced His public ministry. We do know that he was alive when Jesus went to Jerusalem at the age of 12, and that’s the last mention of him in the gospel. So, meagre facts provide the framework for Joseph’s life.
We can, though, glean a little of his character: He’s described: “as a man who always did what was right” – implying that he lived his life following the Jewish customs and the law. Being engaged to someone was a legal binding contract. Joseph soon learned though that his bride to be was pregnant and the child was not his. There he is in his workshop and Mary says: “Joseph, God’s giving me a baby son, and we’ll call him, Jesus." Did he drop his hammer and stare in disbelief? Did anger and shame rob him of speech? Or did he shout: “He’s no son of mine, I won’t call him anything!” Did he walk away in disgust thinking “How could God do this to me?”
Imagine the gossip; the whispers at the village well. He couldn’t face it. He was a good Jew and wanted to follow the law. The law, by the way, in which he was allowed to publically humiliate Mary. In the film, there a scene where he’s having a nightmare and one of his friends hands him a stone so that he can be the first to throw it at Mary – stoning being her punishment for having committed adultery. It’s more than his mind could handle. No doubt a few sleepless nights followed, as he considered what to do. The Bible doesn’t talk about his broken heart, but I’m sure he was devastated. Nevertheless, the way he planned to quietly get out of the engagement shows he also loved Mary and wanted to spare her any further humiliation. He’d provide for her and send her away, which was allowed by the law.
However, God didn’t think that was such a good idea. And in the midst of that awful decision-making, God stepped in and comes to guide him: "I know this looks bad and feels terrible, but believe it or not, I’m going to bring something heavenly out of it. Can you trust me about this?" Imagine having a dream, where the angel of God calls you by name and confirms all that Mary was saying is true: “Joseph, the baby within Mary is holy. I’ve chosen you to be his father. Don’t be afraid. Go ahead and marry her.” What an outrageous suggestion! However, Joseph accepts the angel’s witness to his virgin bride’s innocence. He’s already shown his compassionate nature, and now he’s displaying an amazing acceptance of wonder and mystery. He didn’t say: “Because I can’t understand it, it’s not possible” and neither did he impose limits on God. We see something about the nature of faith here – being willing to let God be God and not restrict Him to our narrow limits, believing all things are possible.
Let’s not think this was easy. There’s no way to prove the accuracy of dreams ahead of time. So there was risk involved here but this was the decision Joseph made. So with nothing more than Mary’s word and the memories of a dream, Joseph marries a pregnant woman carrying a child which is not his own. Imagine God looking down to choose a man to raise his own son? It’s not easy to entrust your children to someone else, but Joseph had God’s trust. Remember the angel’s words: “She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, yes you, Joseph will name him Jesus.” Naming the child was typically the job of the mother, but by stating this, God is allowing Joseph to take full responsibility as Jesus’ legal father – naming him and adopting him into his family tree. But if this adopted baby is God – then when He grows up there’ll be nothing He doesn’t know. Therefore, would Joseph be able to teach Him anything? Carpentry is seldom referred to in the NT, but in those days a carpenter was a professional of high standing in the community, as a builder and an architect in setting up the framework of houses and making furniture. Joseph taught his eldest son to shape and cut timber and accurately taught him the skills needed to carry on the family profession. Through his teaching Jesus turned into a fine carpenter. Although, no one remembered what Jesus made. The Son of God left the trade, His friends and neighbours behind and became a preacher of the Good News of salvation.
We have a little insight into the man Joseph. Once a year he makes an appearance, but it’s time, I think, to bring him out from behind the manger. At the risk of his reputation, he took responsibility and overcame his own fears to follow God. He’s also a model father which is why God entrusted His only Son into his care. Think about this. If Joseph had not provided such a strong example, could Jesus have imagined God as "Abba," father? If Joseph had not loved him so well could Jesus have preached so powerfully about the love of Abba Father God? So, this Christmas time, in a world of harsh realities and difficult choices, let’s not forget that Joseph opted to listen to the voice of his dreams. He was an ordinary man who had enough faith to do what God wanted him to do. "Don’t worry, Mary. We’ll reach Bethlehem soon. God certainly will take care of us. I’m sure there will be a place for us to stay in Bethlehem…"
He gives us hope. For we are reminded to look forward to Christmas Day with great joy, because we have good news that God is drawing near to us in giving us His Son. May we, like Joseph, know and show the love of our Father in heaven, this Christmas and always.