Scripture: Matt 1–2; Luke 2:41–51; 3:23–38
Mary had the tough role, but Joseph’s role in the birth of the Messiah wasn’t so comfortable either. Who would have blamed Joseph if he had gone through with the divorce he was considering? And notice, this decent man had been planning to avoid embarrassing Mary publicly (Matt 1:19).
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and gave him pretty much the same explanation that Gabriel had given Mary: This has been conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by some other man. Here’s the name you’re supposed to give him: “Jesus.” And all of this fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the “Immanuel” child (Matt 1:20–23, see Isa 7:14). So, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife” (Matt 1:20).
So “when Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matt 1:24–25). And thus he shouldered a heavy responsibility. He took his pregnant fiance off to Bethlehem when taxes came due. He sat by while she gave birth and began receiving visitors from near and far. The royal imagery that the wise men from the East signified with their precious gifts would have stunned him: “I’m just a Galilean carpenter. What’s this they’re saying about our son?”
The next time the Lord sent him a message in a dream was to tell him, Take the boy and his mother and run for your lives. Herod’s in a slaughtering rage, trying to kill all the little boys who might prove to be a Messiah and claim his throne. So Joseph pulled up stakes and ran for Egypt until he saw Herod’s name in the International Herald Tribune obits. Only then could they head back home.
In one sense, Jesus must have given them an easy ride as parents. This one who was God made flesh didn’t get into trouble with fist fights, drugs, and girls. I doubt if he even threw spit balls in class or got after-school detentions for pulling the girls’ pigtails. On the other hand, how easy could it have been for simple trades people from the hills to raise the King of kings and Lord of lords. They would head off to the temple, and Jesus would hunt up the scholars for intense Scripture discussions. Mary and Joseph would exchange stories, and one of them would bring up Simeon’s prediction: “And a sword will pierce your very soul” (Luke 2:35).
Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’s ancestry through Mary, who was the mother of the Christ child. Luke’s doesn’t blush to trace Jesus’s line back from Joseph, even though he didn’t sire the child himself. Joseph must have served as a loving and faithful husband to Mary and father to Jesus, but he fades out of the gospel story early on. Only the apocryphal works provide any detailed history of Joseph’s subsequent life and death. But heaven must have given a warm welcome to this faithful and humble servant who put aside his own dignity to protect Mary’s, laid aside his own paternal rights in obedience to heaven’s call, and loved his God, his wife, and his Son.
Questions, Reflections, & Commitments
- Compare and contrast the openness of Mary and Joseph to God’s guidance with your own receptivity to God’s call and what it might mean to how you prefer to be seen in this world.
- How well do you think Joseph has fared in church history, especially as compared to Mary?