As he lay down on his pallet, weary from a long day of fitting wheels on carts, repairing plows for farmers, and building furniture for his other customers, Joseph of Nazareth could not go to sleep because of the heaviness of the crisis he faced personally.
His lovely fiancée, Mary, had just crushed his heart with news that caused her own to leap with joy: she was expecting a baby. She had been gone for several months to visit relatives in the south of Israel, and greeted him with this scandalous news. No wonder she was so hesitant to see him.
Joseph knew immediately that Mary wasn’t carrying his baby, for that was not the type of relationship he wanted with his prospective bride. Because both of them were devout in their faith, they had agreed to respect their mutual virginity until after their wedding, which would take place as soon as he had prepared a place for them to live. But Mary’s news threw all their plans into chaos.
The shock had cleared long enough for Joseph to inquire about whose baby she was carrying. Her explanation was as incredible as her announcement was heart-breaking. “Seriously, you are carrying God’s baby? You’re still a virgin, but the Holy Spirit has impregnated you so you might deliver the Savior from heaven? Mary, I love you, but your story is way too much for me to accept!”
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As he walked away from the love of his life, Joseph contemplated his options. Since their engagement had been public before the synagogue congregation, the dissolving of their vows would also have to be made in public. Joseph would be forced to state the reason this “divorce.” It would cause Mary to be charged with adultery and subjected to stoning.
And he would have to participate in her death. He just couldn’t do that. What was he to do?
The fitful sleep gave way to an angel of the Lord speaking to him through a dream, telling him not to be afraid for Mary’s incredible testimony was true. God had called them both to participate in history’s greatest event. Joseph was invited to share Mary’s “scandal” by accepting her as his wife, to protect and name her child, “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Reassured that this new adventure was a fulfillment of the 700-year old prophecy of the revered Isaiah (7:14), Joseph rose in the morning, went to Mary’s home, opened his arms and heart in a covenantal commitment to not only take part in her incredible calling, but to lead and protect her in it.
When Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas season, Joseph will probably be backstage in the drama. When this story is recreated, Joseph will have little to say and do. He will just stand to the side as Mary and her Child bask deservedly in the spotlight.
But as we celebrate this year, I would suggest we glance once in a while to the side of the manger and breathe a word of thanksgiving for the stalwart carpenter at Mary’s side. He was her anchor, protector, midwife, and guide. Joseph validated her story, defended her honor, and raised her children. This forgotten man of Christmas deserves a moment in the spotlight.
And while we are honoring Joseph this year, why not look around and give thanks to God for people in your life, like this carpenter, who have been the trusted parent, friend, or instructor who have played the stabilizing role in our lives — outside the spotlight, like Joseph? They may not be flamboyant or fancy, but you can count on them in the time of crisis. Like Joseph, they can be trusted.
Speak sincerely, and do something special for the Josephs in your life this Christmas.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.