Joseph must have been a wonderful man. I would like to have known Joseph and to have had him as a friend. Matthew 1: 18-25 – the Gospel reading for December 22, the fourth Sunday in Advent this year – has this to say about Joseph. “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” (verse 19)
But then, after the angel appeared to him, it says, “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” (verse 24)
If Joseph were with us today to tell his story, I could imagine his saying something like this –
“I am a righteous man. I try to live according to the Holy Scriptures. I had a reputation to maintain in our community. As soon as people found out that Mary was pregnant, they would assume that I was the father. My reputation would be ruined. I was furious. I was going to make it public. I was going to go before the elders at the town gate and sever this relationship, after explaining to them that I was not responsible.
“But as I thought about it I realized that I could not do that, because I loved Mary. Even though she had broken my heart and had shattered my trust, and I knew I could not marry her, still I did not want to expose her to public shame. So I decided that I would just call the whole thing off quietly and make up some sort of a story.”
After the angel appeared to him, I can imagine his saying something like this –
“I was elated. I had received a message from heaven. I knew for sure that Mary had told me the truth. I was filled with joy. I apologized to Mary for doubting her.”
Regarding the circumstances of the birth of Jesus, I can imagine his saying something like this –
“I lit a fire to keep us warm. When the baby came, I did the best I could to be a midwife. But remember, I am a carpenter. I severed the cord, cleaned the child as best I could, and then wrapped him in strips of cloth. I laid him in a manger, because that was the only place where I could put him where he would be off of the filth of the floor.
“I had all kinds of questions, like: If Mary is supposed to be highly favored of God (as the angel had told her), and if this is something that God had been planning on doing for a long time, then how do you explain the cave? How do you explain the dirt and the cattle? How do you explain the loneliness? For no one came to celebrate the birth of our son except some lowly shepherds. They came smelling like sheep. They said they had heard an angel choir. They came looking for our baby boy. Except for them, we were totally alone.”
Looking back on the whole Christmas experience, I can imagine Joseph saying something like this –
“When I was young, I figured that if even once in my life I were to see an angel, I would never doubt. I would always believe. Well, I saw an angel. But still there have been times when I have doubted.
“Maybe you have a strong faith like Mary’s. If you do, then you are a special person, chosen by God. But maybe you are more like me – a more practical person. You like things you can touch, feel, and measure. You find it hard to believe.
“After I met the angel, there were times I thought I would never doubt again. But there were also times when the whole thing did not make sense to me. It all seemed like such a strange way to save the world.
“Well, God used me. I, Joseph, put my thumbprint on Jesus. I taught him how to be a carpenter. And he was such a good carpenter. He could make oxen yoke that were so easy. They would fit just perfectly. In fact, the folks in our village called him ‘the carpenter.’ I felt so proud whenever I heard him being called that, because I was the one who had taught him how to be a carpenter. I put my thumbprint on him.
“But then he also put his thumbprint on me, for he is the Savior of the world. It was not easy. But still – every time whenever I thought that I knew what God wanted me to do – I would do it. I had faith enough to do it.
“When God sent his Son to earth, he put him in my care. A carpenter, who sometimes believed his doubts and sometimes doubted his beliefs. But who tried with all his heart to remain faithful throughout.”
Joseph is not the main character of the story. But the Gospel reading for December 22, the fourth Sunday in Advent this year, is primarily about Joseph. As we once again celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us also remember Joseph. When God wanted someone to take care of his Son, he chose Joseph. May we strive to be like Joseph, who was both righteous and compassionate. Who believed, obeyed, and did the best that he could.
Wishing you a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas,
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE