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By Ted Schroeder
December 24, 2006

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man....." (Matthew 1:18,19)

What would you do if you were Joseph? The marriage is arranged. The invitations have been sent. You are looking forward to being married to a beautiful young maiden, and starting a family together. Then, you discover that your bride is pregnant. You know that the baby cannot be yours. Immediately you conclude that Mary has been unfaithful to you. She has been promiscuous. To add insult to injury she tells you that she is to bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit. How can she expect him to believe such a story? Does she think him an idiot? What can he do? He does not want to expose her to further public disgrace, so he decides to end the betrothal quietly.

After having made his decision to end the relationship, he goes to bed that night. He dreams vividly about what Mary had told him. It seems that an angel of the Lord is speaking to him. He is addressed by his patronymic, 'son of David', reminding him of his royal lineage. The Messiah is supposed to come from his line. He is aware of the prophecies about a Savior who will come who will reign over the house of David forever. The angel confirms Mary's story, that what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. He is not to be afraid of public opinion, or of Mary's character, but he is to take her home as his wife. She will bear him a son whose name will be Jesus, or Joshua, which means 'the Lord saves'. The angel told him that this would be a fulfillment of the prophecy about a virgin giving birth to a son, who will be called Immanuel, which means 'God with us.'

What a night! What a dream! He woke up remembering it all. He told his family about it. His attitude to Mary was changed again. He could not view her as being unfaithful to him if this was a miracle, and they were meant to fulfill the ancient prophesies. Like Mary, he was being called to respond to God's demand on his life. To reject Mary would be to reject God's command. To walk away from their relationship would be to go against all that he had been taught to believe. He had to be faithful to the vision he had been given. There was risk involved. He could be wrong. He could have imagined the whole dream. But he was willing to take the risk and to go forward. So he did what he believed the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

John Polkinghorne writes, "Joseph stood by Mary and her expected child, and he cared for them as they trudged the weary way to Bethlehem . After the birth there comes another disturbing message. Herod is seeking the child to take his life. Instantly and decisively, Joseph acts, hastening the family to safety in Egypt . How different the Christmas story would have been without the rock-solid faithfulness of Joseph! We often take him for granted, but his role was indispensable. Joseph stands as an example of utter reliability and trustworthiness in strange and disturbing circumstances, able to act with generosity and effectiveness." (Living With Hope, p.79)

Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. He deserves our closer attention. It is he who takes charge. He takes responsibility for Mary and the baby Jesus. He shepherds them to safety. He provides for them. He protects them in a strange land. He listens to what the angels says to him in his dreams, and acts upon their warnings and directions. He is a good and faithful man who is willing to take risks in order to forward God's plans. He believes that God has a purpose in all that happens, and is working that purpose out in his life and in the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Luci Shaw has written this poem about the influence of Joseph.

Who has not considered Mary

And who her praise would dim,

But what of humble Joseph

Is there no song for him?

If Joseph had not driven

Straight nails through honest wood

If Joseph had not cherished

His Mary as he should;

If Joseph had not proved him

A sire both kind and wise

Would he have drawn with favor

The Child's all-probing eyes?

Would Christ have prayed, 'Our Father'

Or cried that name in death

Unless he first had honored

Joseph of Nazareth ?

We would do well to note the life and follow the example of Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth . Ruth Etchell tells us that we can be thankful for all the Josephs (not all of them male), in our lives. The Josephs who taught us by example to do all our work thoroughly and honestly. The Josephs who taught us how trustworthy the loving commitment of marriage can be. The Josephs who taught us how strong and gentle and protective parental love can be. The Josephs who taught us the wisdom and integrity ordinary men and women are capable of in their unheralded lives. The Josephs who taught us the name 'Father' to call on in life's bitter or hurtful experiences, even to the final struggles of mortality.

We can be a Joseph to someone today. We can listen to what the angels impart to us in our dreams, and the Spirit through God's Word. We can act on what we know is right. We can go the extra mile to protect those we love. The world would be a sweeter place were there more like Joseph. A good society is built of such men, contented men who do the work they are fitted to do, men who house Christ in their homes, men who do their best, love their families, and leave no mark of evil on the world's marred face. Such is the man who helped deliver his wife of Jesus. Such is the man who received the shepherds and the wise men that first Christmas.

When St. John sees Jesus in glory as being called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11) he is describing a family trait. He takes after his earthly, as well as his heavenly, father. Joseph was the Faithful and True witness to his Son. Would that we can be the same!

Ted Schroder's new book, SURVIVING HURRICANES: DELIVER US FROM EVIL, is now available from Amelia Island Publishing, P.O. Box 8014, Amelia Island, FL 32035 for $24.95 plus $2.55 for shipping. It deals with the problem of evil and suffering from the point of view of the Armor of God and the Lord's Prayer, and provides prayers and questions for reflection and discussion.


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