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Advent and Christmas have focused millions of hearts and minds around the world on the story of Jesus’ birth as it is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Gabriel, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, the Magnificat, the birth of John, Nazareth, the census, Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, Immanuel, shepherds, jubilant angelic messengers, Jerusalem, the Temple, Simeon, Anna, a star, magi, Herod, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, the return to Nazareth; all of these people and places are woven into the tapestry of a timeless story that rests at the very foundation of our faith and at the heart of who we believe Jesus Christ to be.

Intentionally omitted (just to see if you would notice!) from the foregoing list of individuals who are integral to the narrative of the Savior’s birth is someone who is present at nearly every turn in the story… Joseph of Nazareth.

It is somewhat surprising to discover just how little is revealed about Joseph in the Gospels.  He is not mentioned at all in Mark, and is only mentioned in passing in the Fourth Gospel, where twice John records that people referred to Jesus as “the son of Joseph.”  Matthew and Luke, then, serve as our sole sources of information, limited though it is.  For example, what is accepted as common knowledge about Joseph’s occupation as a carpenter rests on a lone reference in Matthew 13:55.  Still, the things which are revealed about him offer powerful insights into Joseph’s faith and character and the vital role that he played in the unfolding drama of God ushering in salvation through Jesus Christ.

Carpentry would have demanded significant physical strength.  The birth narratives similarly bear witness to Joseph’s great strength of faith and character.

But, why refer to Joseph as the “silent type?”  Because nothing from his lips is recorded in the Biblical text; nothing; not a word!  We don’t have a single, solitary quotation of anything Joseph said to Mary, the angelic messengers in his dreams, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, or the magi.  What we do have, however, is a vivid portrait of love, faith, and commitment in action.

At whatever point Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he simply could not accept her explanation of how there came to be an unborn child in her womb.  What man would have believed her?  In addition to her presumed guilt of sexual sin and her unfaithfulness to her betrothed, she was now compounding her iniquity with lies of the most outrageous and imaginative sort.

If Joseph were like every other man, then he was hurt, he was devastated, and he was angry.  He felt completely betrayed by Mary.  This had to be a deal breaker; he could not and would not marry her.  Still, he loved her.  Oh, how he loved her!  He couldn’t bear the thought of other people looking at her the way he now did.  He couldn’t expose Mary’s pregnancy in such a way that would make her the object of scandal, accusation, condemnation, derision, and perhaps even punishment.  He would annul their betrothal and send Mary away underneath the radar of public scrutiny and scorn.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, verified Mary’s account of her pregnancy, and instructed him to name the child Jesus when this son, Immanuel, was born (Matt 1:18-25).

“And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” That’s Joseph’s M.O.  Three more times (Matt. 2:13-14, 19-21, 22-23) God will communicate to Joseph via dreams and angels.  Three more times Joseph will do precisely as the Lord directed him.   He believes in the God of His fathers, He trusts the voice of the Lord, and submits his own wishes to the Divine will.

Joseph is just an all around stand-up guy: a hard worker, a generous provider, faithful, committed, protective, compassionate, etc.  As a subject of Rome, it is Joseph’s compliance with the requirements of the census that takes him and a very expectant Mary on what must have been an arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  In keeping with the covenant of his fathers, He has Jesus circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), and gives him the name Jesus, just as Gabriel had instructed Mary and as he himself had been celestially directed in his dream.  Also in keeping with the requirements of the Law of God, Joseph offered sacrifices at the Temple in the Jerusalem when Mary’s postpartum purification had been completed (Luke 2:22-38).

After protecting his family in Egypt and ultimately returning to Nazareth, Joseph led his family (which including four sons and at least two daughters subsequently born to him and Mary) in devotion to God.  He taught his trade of carpentry to Jesus (Mark 6:3).  Joseph ensured that the entire family made an annual pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem for Passover (Luke 2:41).  As an adult, Jesus’ custom of being in the synagogue every Sabbath (Luke 4:16) surely could be traced back to the way he and the rest of his earthly family had been led in habits of faith by Nazareth’s resident carpenter.

What did Joseph say to Mary when he learned of her pregnancy?  How did he humbly and profusely apologize to her after the truth of Mary’s story was confirmed by the angel?  What words and instruction did he routinely impart while raising Someone Else’s son in such a way that he grew in strength, stature, wisdom, the grace of God, and both divine and human favor?  Perhaps one day we will know.

Though somewhat overlooked because he is not granted a speaking part in the inspired Christmas pageant, Joseph most certainly occupies a prominent place in the cloud of witnesses who have preceded us in faith, known not for what he said, but for what he so consistently and faithfully did.

Joseph provides an example of faith that I desire to follow.  If God communicated with me through an angel in a dream and told me what He desired for me to do, I would like to believe that I, like Joseph, would immediately respond as directed.  What if God just wrote it down for me?

A question for all of the dads out there:  If you had to choose someone else to raise your son, who would it be?  If, for whatever reason, you knew that circumstances were going to prevent you from being able to nurture and protect the child who bore your likeness and shared your DNA, who would you select?  Your brother, perhaps?   A trusted brother in Christ?  A close friend?  It would have to be someone who you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would raise him exactly the same way you would.  Your selection of a surrogate would be made with the utmost care and intention; there would be only one chance to get this right.

God chose Joseph of Nazareth to raise His Son.

We frequently focus, and for good reason, on God’s selection of Mary to bring the Messiah into the world, a virgin who would conceive within her womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Word in human flesh, Immanuel, God with us, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

But, this was a package deal.  Mary was engaged and would soon be married to Joseph, son of Jacob, a carpenter of the tribe of Judah whose ancestral home was Bethlehem, the city of his forefather David.  Joseph would serve as the protector, provider, and spiritual leader of this young family.

Joseph’s faith and character are succinctly described by the phrase, “a righteous man” (Matt. 1:19), not indicating holy perfection, but a sincere and serious desire to serve and obey the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He is not mentioned at all in the Gospel of Mark, and only in passing in the Gospel of John as people referred to Jesus as “the son of Joseph.”  It is only Matthew and Luke who, through the Holy Spirit, give us insight into Joseph’s heart and life.

Joseph is a man of few words as far as Scripture is concerned; none, to be precise.  It is rather remarkable that not a single syllable is recorded from the lips of Joseph that he spoke to Mary, the angel, the shepherds, the wise men, Simeon, Anna, the scribes in the Temple, or to Jesus.  Joseph’s actions speak louder than words!

When Joseph initially believed that Mary’s pregnancy was the result of unfaithfulness and sin, compounded by lies about an angel and the involvement of the Holy Spirit, he still loved her far too much to subject her to public humiliation.  Despite the emotional pain and betrayal that he felt, Joseph intended to put Mary away secretly, below the radar of small town scorn and gossiping tongues.  He couldn’t bear the thought of others looking at her as he did at the time.  It took an angelic visitation in a dream to convince Joseph of the truth of Mary’s story.

Four times, Joseph received messages from God via angels in dreams (Matt. 1:20; 2:13; 2:19; 2:22).  That’s twice as many dreams as were experienced by another “Joseph, son of Jacob” that we typically remember as “the dreamer.”  After each dream, Joseph responds immediately with compliance and obedience; no hesitation, no procrastination, no negotiation.  Consider it done!

Joseph led his family in the way of the Lord.   He made sure that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and later presented at the Temple with the sacrifice for Mary’s purification that was required by the Law (Luke 2:21-24).   He would have taken Deut. 6:7 and other texts seriously in providing spiritual instruction for his children, not only Jesus, but also James, Joses, Simon, Judas, and his daughters (Matt. 13:55-56).  The Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an annual  family tradition (Luke 2:41).  Based on Jesus’ performance at age 12 in the Q&A session in the Temple (Luke 2:46-47), I would say that Joseph must have been quite a good teacher!

It is assumed that Joseph died at some point between Jesus’ 12th year and the beginning of His public ministry at age 30.  Unlike Mary and Jesus’ earthly brothers, Joseph is never mentioned as being present in the ministry narratives.  The fact that Jesus commits Mary’s care to the apostle John shortly before His death on the cross serves as near certain confirmation that Joseph was no longer alive.

As hearts and minds turn to the miracle of the Savior’s birth this Christmas, I wanted to make sure that Joseph’s vital role in God’s plan didn’t just fade into obscurity in the “family photo” that was taken around the manger.  The Father handpicked Joseph to raise His Son, quite a treasure to be entrusted into one’s care and protection.  That fact alone causes Joseph’s stock to rise immensely among the Cloud of Witnesses that has gone before us.

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December 2022