Tuesday, December 24, 2013

No Joseph

No Joseph
As I unwrapped the nativity figures I brought home from Burundi I noticed that there was no Joseph character. Mary? Yes. Baby Jesus? Yes, and two kneeling sheep. Two shepherds, complete with removable staffs, and four stately wisemen (all identical; all presenting the same gift). But no Joseph.

You want to know what's really weird? Joseph is missing from two of my other nativities as well! Can you really have Christmas without Joseph?

A shepherd stands in for Joseph

Joseph gets very little coverage in the scriptures. Did you know that there is not one word spoken by him in the entire Bible? Although he never speaks, we know enough about Joseph from what is said about him to see that he is fit to be the human father of the Son of God.

Righteous. That's what Matthew calls Joseph. Let's look at the characteristics of this righteous man.

Joseph was compassionate, and not rash. When he learned of Mary's pregnancy he did not take quick action to protect his reputation. His concern was for Mary's well-being more than his own. He did not want to expose her shame publicly and decided it would be best to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was open to God and was able to recognize his voice. On four separate occasions the Lord used dreams to give Joseph very specific direction.
- In the throes of deciding what to do about Mary, an angel came to him in a dream. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, the angel instructed (Matt 1:20).
- When Herod sought to kill Jesus, the Lord interrupted Joseph's sleep with these words, Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt (2:13);
- Once Herod had died the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel (2:20);
- But Joseph was afraid, because Archelaus, Herod's son, was now in charge. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee (2:22).

Joseph was quick to obey. In response to each dream, he took action. He trusted God so much that he recognized His voice and promptly did what he was told.

Joseph was faithful. He took the law seriously when he wrestled with Mary's dilemma, he went to Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:21), he had the boy circumcised on the eighth day and named him Jesus (2:21), he presented Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed to the Lord (2:22-24), he did everything required by the Law of the Lord (2:39), and he made the annual trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover (2:41).

Joseph was a devoted father. He surely was tender with Mary during their trip to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. Did he think it strange that this Son of God was born in a stable and had only a manger for a bed? Or that their visitors were poor shepherds and rich sages? He marveled at Simeon's words at Jesus' dedication and would later be astonished to see people's reaction to the twelve-year-old Jesus.

Jesus was obedient to his father. Luke tells us that after Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them (2:51). Jesus had the example of Joseph's obedience to all the law to teach him how to be obedient both to his human parents and his Heavenly Father (John 8:29, Heb 5:7-10).

We read in Luke, just prior to the genealogy of Jesus, this astonishing statement: Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph (3:23). We don't know how old he was when he died, but from the time the angel appeared to Mary until Joseph's final breath he was thought to be the father of Jesus.  "Isn't this Joseph's son?" the people asked when they heard the gracious words that came from [Jesus'] lips (Luke 4:22).

Only a righteous man could have filled Joseph's role as a human father to the Son of God. In the cast of Christmas characters, the part played by Joseph is vital. The strong, silent Joseph is just the man for the role. Take him out of the story and you'd have a gaping hole.

There is a hole in the story when there is no Joseph

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