Jesus always deserves the crown. Of course.
And we see Mary with the halo. Much deserved.
But last night as my husband and I took our kids to a Lights of Christmas festival in Warm Beach, I noticed something interesting about the nativity.
Lights of Christmas is a beautiful village of lights ranging from Santa and his helpers to oceans and ships and mazes and trees of lanterns and trains and talking Christmas trees. But my favorite part by far is the nativity scene.
Life size marble-esque statues set up in a grassy area with lights shining on the figures, shining doves, twinkling lights highlighting animals in a field, Christmas music and trumpets announcing Christ’s birth and angels looming in the sky, anchored by invisible string from the trees. It’s amazing–and I feel a knot in my throat each time. Last night I noticed something about Joseph–and Jeff pointed it out before I even could. Joseph had a halo too.
This Christmastime I’ve been consumed by Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. I saw this picture (shown below) shortly after Thanksgiving and has been researching him on my spare time and thumbing through my Bible to find the verses that highlight his life, his character, and most importantly–his fatherhood. He has always been mysterious to me, a character in the greatest story ever told that doesn’t really get this time to shine. One of the most important people in history who is possibly the least understood.
Sure, there are biblical scholars who could talk me under the table about Joseph and I bet there’s a lot of information within different kinds of records and roundtables of knowledge. But to the common man, like me, he isn’t someone who shines with any brilliance or is even deserving of a halo. Until this year.
I strive to be like the Savior, but in so many ways I hope to be like the man beside him–the first step father in recorded history. When Mary first told Joseph that she was pregnant with the son of God and that an angel alerted her to what happened and why it was happening, his reaction was one we would all have. He was angry. He thought she was lying and that she cheated on him. In those days, of course, if he had said anything at all to anyone in his fit of anger, she would have been stoned right there in the streets (Deuteronomy 22)
But he didn’t. Even in his mistrust, he didn’t say anything. He just decided that they would end their engagement secretly to keep her safe. And of course, we know the rest of that story. Joseph falls asleep in the midst of his grief, and is then visited by an angel who tells him the truth of it all.
That’s usually where we end his story. But it keeps going. He marries Mary, vows to protect her, and months later when danger lurks and she’s about to give birth to Jesus, He walks beside her–most likely stopping to help her eat and drink and to comfort her during contractions and everything else us mothers know all too well goes on during labor. He travels across a country from their home in Nazareth to ensure that his wife and step son are taken care of. He believes, with pure faith, that these two people he loves, will redeem the human race.
And he puts himself aside.
Let’s remember that Joseph was the son of Heli, a descendant of the tribe of David. David is a line of royalty which stands for leadership. Heck, even the symbol for the tribe is a roaring lion. Yet Joseph was a carpenter who decided to dedicate his life to his wife and step son. He walked along side a donkey, was the only one present to help Mary deliver the baby (we often forget this part of the story, but how amazing is that? Labor is not easy!), and he stood at attention to watch Jesus through the night as Mary slept in utter exhaustion.
We sing the songs about Mary and the silent night, we ogle over the baby lying in a bed of hay–and we often forget about the father that stepped up, stepped in, and walked on faith and compassion and complete selflessness–which started well before the birth of Christ.
After the nativity, Joseph was only mentioned one more time in the entire Bible. I find my skin crawling with that notion. After all, what was Jesus’ profession other than a teacher and minister later on in his life?
A carpenter. Like his step dad.
Subliminally and subtly we learn the influence that Jesus’ earthly father had on Jesus. And because Jesus was wise and loving and perceptive, it’s obvious he would have loved him. After all, Joseph was the man who raised Jesus.
It’s no secret that I can empathize with both Mary and Joseph. No, I’m not claiming my son is the new Christ *but he is SO cute!*. All I’m saying is I’m a biological mother with a beautiful son, and I’m also a step parent to a daughter. And coming from both perspectives and both experiences, I can guarantee you without any hesitation that being a step parent is far harder, far more trying of your faith and patience and love and humility–far more of a sacrifice.
To this, I turn to the few pages that butterfly themselves into the Bible to speak of Joseph. I hope to become like Joseph in a lot of ways. It was only expressed once that Joseph felt anger and sadness, but let’s be honest. It probably wasn’t a cake walk being Mary’s husband in the beginning or Jesus’ father in the end. I’m sure he had a plethora of feelings that weren’t written about because his actions spoke more loudly.
I tip my hat to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who carried our Savior into this world. But I remember that she was told to do this and carried out an assignment thrust upon her–beautifully and with grace, no doubt. But still.
Joseph? He chose.
And he stuck by his choice.
That’s what we all must do. Step-parents, believers who have seeds of doubt, spouses who are at the end of their ropes, lonely hearts who have to cling to God with total faith, all of those in a situation that feels outside of their control. All of those–all of us–who find ourselves walking beside a situation we chose with all our hearts, trying to push down the grief and the frustration and the impatience and all the humanly traits that can interfere in doing what’s right and good. And sometimes there’s only a glimmer–a north star of sorts–that reminds us of where we’re walking to.
Step-parent or not, I think we can empathize with that. In one way or another, we’re the shadow in the story–the person looking on, wanting to give up at times–and deciding not to. In so many ways we’re the ones who have to choose a love–and decide to love our choice.
We owe a lot to Joseph for who Jesus was. Sure, he had the light of God and the Father’s very DNA within him that shaped him and steered him toward an eternal purpose. But what about his work ethic? His manners? His kindness? His respect toward women and elders and children? Much of that came from Joseph.
I hope to be like Joseph, and I honor him when I stare toward that beautiful nativity scene. I honor the man who raised my Savior. The man who chose a woman who would have been cast aside, the man who was shamed, the man who delivered a baby that was not his and protected and taught and nurtured a boy that he loved beyond measure, all the while knowing where Jesus’ path would lead. He didn’t have to even get involved, but he did. And he never backed out.
I think that’s why he was never written about again. It’s why the pages go blank with mention of his name. To the Lord, maybe we know enough:
Jesus, son of God, was a carpenter’s son.