As we prepare to celebrate again the birth of Jesus, I pause for a moment …
… at Joseph.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a figurine of the Holy Family. In this particular scene, Joseph is holding the baby Jesus while Mary is sleeping by his side.
And while the scene recalled for me the days when I fed my baby boys while letting my wife get some sleep, the scene caused me to reflect about Joseph.
We know so little about him. He was a carpenter by trade. He could trace his lineage back to King David. He was engaged to a young girl named Mary.
But where was he from? We are not sure. The Gospel of Matthew suggests that he was from Bethlehem and only later was forced to re-locate to Nazareth. The Gospel of Luke says he lived in Nazareth, although his family roots were in Bethlehem.
How old was he? We do not know. Scripture never says, and the traditions vary widely. While most Protestant traditions picture Joseph as being close in age to Mary, Orthodox traditions picture him as an older man, widowed, with multiple children from his first marriage. This tradition dates back to the second century and is found in many classical paintings of the Holy Family.
When and how did he die? Again, we do not know. We only assume that he died before the ministry of Jesus began, because we hear nothing about him after the birth accounts. Was it old age? Was it disease? Something tragic? The death of Joseph is shrouded in mystery.
We do not even have any words recorded or attributed to Joseph.
But what we do know provides an inspiration for us.
When Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant, Jewish Law would have justified him to expose her, condemn her, even have her put to death. But that was not the man he was. He resolved to dismiss her quietly, not cast her in shame or dishonor, “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.” (Matthew 1:19) In so doing, she would retain her dignity while he remained in righteousness.
And yet when an angel revealed to Joseph in a dream who this baby would be and how this conception happened, Joseph accepts the message without question and without comment. He takes Mary as his wife, accepting whatever aspersions might be cast his way, until Jesus is born.
And when an angel appears again in a dream to warn Joseph to escape the wrath of Herod and flee to Egypt, again without question and comment he obeys the command and uproots his young family. He would do so again when the angel reveals that it is safe to return.
Joseph models for us what the life of a disciple is all about. Discipleship is not about saying the right words. Discipleship is about following God in a life lived in faith and trust.
Joseph reminds me of so many of you in the church, so many of those who have formed my faith journey. The quiet witness of a life lived in love, lived in faith, lived in trust, is what God intended for us.
Without a word, Joseph shows us what faithfulness is all about.
So, as we gather with family this Christmas, as we worship with our churches on this Christmas Eve, as we gaze at the manger scene once again, let us praise God not only for the gift of the Divine presence found in Jesus. Let us also praise God for the inspiration that this gift revealed in Joseph and Mary.
Let us praise God for the faith revealed and inspired in us.