A Sunday school teacher asked her class, “What was Jesus’ mother’s name?” One child answered, “Mary.” The teacher then asked, “Who knows what Jesus’ father’s name was?” A little child said, “Verge.” Confused, the teacher asked, “Where did you get that from?” The child said, “Well, you know how they are always talking about ‘Verge and Mary.’”
On Wednesday Beata and I went to Tomek’s school to see him take part in his first big performance as a sheep in the school nativity play! There is one very important character in the nativity play who often gets overlooked, and that is Joseph. Joseph is definitely the forgotten hero of the nativity story, and yet he plays such an important role.
The use & abuse of Joseph
Poor old Joseph has a hard time. He is often portrayed in art and literature as a passive, elderly, sexless and silent figure who is always in the background. But Joseph plays an extremely important role in the story of the birth of Christ. His faithfulness and responsiveness to what God called him to do, is no less impressive than Mary’s own response.
It significant that God choose Mary AND Joseph to be the parents of baby Jesus. Before Jesus learned to call his heavenly Father abba – daddy, he called Joseph his abba. In Luke chapter 2, we read about how when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. On the way home Mary and Joseph realise that Jesus is not with them, and they return to Jerusalem to search for him. Eventually they find him in the Temple, and these are Mary’s words to Jesus. “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
The baby Jesus did not become the man Jesus by only being at the breast of Mary. The boy Jesus became the man Jesus by also being in the arms of a father. Joseph was the man who gave Jesus the sense that fatherhood was a glorious reality that imaged the infinite tenderness and strength of God.
Joseph has much to teach us. We need to allow him to regain his youth, his manhood, his marriage and his fatherhood in our imaginations, so that we can learn from him.
Joseph & Mary Give an Interview to Hello Magazine
Looking happy and relaxed together after their first Christmas as the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph welcome Hello readers to an exclusive tour of their new home.
As their adorable three week old baby Jesus plays happily on the floor- doing the Times crossword- Mary told us about the rush to get everything ready in time for the birth of Jesus. ‘We only exchanged on the property on Christmas Eve – it was all a bit last minute. Nothing was ready. Joseph was marvellous. He just got his tools out and soon had the place liveable’. She gazes lovingly up at his rugged handsome features- and affectionately squeezes those strong sensitive craftsman’s hands.
Joseph’s design skills are apparent throughout the house. He has retained the original rustic features of the cattle shed – in fact several animals still live there.
He proudly showed us the charming nursery with its unusual manger feature, designed in the style of a cattle trough. ‘Jesus loves it – in fact he loves everything – he’s just a perfect baby. Of course, since he’s been born we have a constant flow of visitors. It has been very busy, but we managed to find a child minder who been a real angel.’ (Continued on page 10)
The Real Joseph
So what do we know about the real Joseph.
If you look in the Bible, you will see that Joseph doesn’t say a single word. He listens and obeys. We might assume his words are recorded, because we can imagine the conversations he had with Mary, and the Angel Gabriel. He can “hear” him talking to the innkeeper. We can visualize him teaching Jesus about carpentry…but then he fades from the scene. It is widely thought that Joseph was much older than Mary, and when Jesus began His ministry, Mary appears alone, and although the Bible doesn’t say she’s a widow, we assume that Joseph has since died.
In Matthew’s Gospel we are told that Joseph was a righteous man and a man of integrity.
We see this in the way in which Joseph deals with the news of Mary’s pregnancy. We are told that Mary and Joseph were pledged to be married, this was a much more binding contract that being engaged is today. The pledge to be married was legally binding. Only a divorce writ could break it, and infidelity at that stage was considered adultery. Under Jewish law, Mary could have been stoned for this apparent act of adultery. But in the face of apparent appalling betrayal by his fiancée- who is pregnant by someone else – Joseph has no doubt he cannot marry her, but he is not willing to humiliate her in public, and so he resolves to dismiss her quietly.
There is a gentle & strong dignity here in the face of what for Joseph must have been awful pain and heartache.
But God intervenes in a dream, saying to Joseph, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
And Joseph says yes to God in a way that is every bit as amazing as Mary. Both of them step outside socially acceptable behaviour, into the costly adventure of faith. In our own time when fatherlessness has become an epidemic, Joseph’s example is a powerful one.
The brief portrait of Joseph in Scripture suggests he was a quiet, unobtrusive man, available when needed, willing to endure hardship and disappointment. Looking forward to fathering his own child, Joseph was faced with being a step-father to a child not his own. He accepted the humbling circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He trusted the providential care of God every step of the way. He didn’t have any parenting books, any training on how to be a father to the Son of God, but he possessed faith and compassion, and was clearly an effective provider and protector of the family.
A Sunday School was putting on a Christmas pageant which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn. One boy wanted so very much to be Joseph, but when the parts were handed out, a boy he didn’t like was given that part, and he was assigned to be the inn-keeper instead. He was pretty upset about this but he didn’t say anything to the director.During all the rehearsals he thought what he might do the night of performance to get even with this rival who got to be Joseph. Finally, the night of the performance, Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn, and the inn-keeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted.Joseph answered, "We’d like to have a room for the night." Suddenly the inn-keeper threw the door open wide and said, "Great, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house!"For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do. Thinking quickly on his feet, he looked inside the door past the inn-keeper then said, "No wife of mine is going to stay in dump like this. Come on, Mary, let’s go to the barn."
In all the Christmas pageants performed, Joseph doesn’t get a starring role, but his part is so important. His task is to watch over Mary and the baby Jesus. When our lives go in a direction we don’t expect, we cry out, like Joseph must have cried out, "God, how can this be?" But like Joseph, we hear a still small voice from God saying, "Trust Me." God’s ways are not always our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and we may never understand everything that God is doing this side of heaven, but God says, "Trust Me, and all things will work together for good."What do we learn from Joseph?
So what can we learn from Joseph.
a) Obedience & trust in the face of the unknown
b) A man who listens to his dreams (Matt 1.20 & 2.13)
Joseph not only responds to the dream from God telling him to marry Mary, but he also responds to the dream warning him that take Mary and the infant to Egypt to escape from King Herod. He is someone who listens to God, and responds accordingly.
c) Willing to respond to God’s call
As we look ahead to 2008, I cannot think of a better example to follow than that of Joseph. I hope and pray that as a church and as Christians we will demonstrate the same level of obedience and trust that Joseph showed in the face of the unknown. I pray that we will be people who listen to what God is telling us, and that like Joseph we will be willing to respond to God’s call.
Monday, December 24, 2007