Joseph’s Role in the Christmas Story
Joseph, to whom she (Mary) was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:19-20
Joseph often gets overlooked in the Christmas story. Sure, his presence appears in every nativity scene we put out for display this time of year. Yet we forget the journey he took and the price he paid to carry out his role. A role he was involuntary cast in – unlike our Christmas pageants, there was no volunteering or auditions for Joseph.
His journey starts out with a dream and expectation most men have: to marry and have a family. It is intriguing to think about how Mary and Joseph chose each other. Were their families in the same dinner group at the synagogue? Did Joseph notice Mary in his “Foundations of the Jewish Faith” class and ask his family to help secure the betrothal?
We know Joseph is a man of good character who holds a deep reverence for God. The Scripture calls him a righteous man which is the same word describing Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6) and Simeon (Lk 2:25). God “casts” people in roles of significance who can be trusted with His message and are willing to exercise faith in His promises even when it’s unpopular or misunderstood.
It is clear that both families valued their faith and taught their children to do the same. Betrothal in the Jewish culture is taken very seriously. Even before the couple consummates their marriage and live together as husband and wife those around them recognize the couple as married. That’s why the reality that Mary is pregnant must have hit Joseph like a ton of bricks.
I can only imagine the struggle to have a conversation. How does she explain? “SO. . .an angel appeared to me and told me that I was going to become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Hmmm. . .that’s a creative solution. “Mary, how could you do this to me when I’ve pledged my devotion to you? Our future looked so promising.” Or perhaps Joseph did believe her but didn’t think it was the right thing to marry a woman who was bearing God’s child. “Yikes, I don’t want to mess up God’s plan. How can I be the earthly parent to the Messiah?” No matter what conclusion he drew, the fact of the matter is that his world is rocked.
Joseph is in a tough place. By outward appearances, Mary broke the law where the consequence of adultery is death by stoning. He could show off his zeal for the law by making a public display of her. Joseph evidently loves her and wants to avoid calling attention to her pregnancy as he knew others will assume adultery. He decides to use the divorce laws and give Mary a written divorce privately.
Have you been in a difficult place where you don’t know what to think about a situation? A person you trust and respect broke the “rules” and it appears as if he or she is at fault. The natural tendency is to assign negative motives and cynicism to the person’s decision(s); yet you wonder if there’s more to his or her story. Perhaps the person has indicated there is more. What is the right or just thing to do?
I suggest praying something along these lines, “God, I don’t know what to believe. Help me to avoid coming to quick conclusions and to listen to him or her while also listening for Your voice to guide me in how to proceed. Deliver me from deceptive thinking – any way the enemy wants to twist this situation or make me think badly of a person or people doing Your will.”
I love that God is big enough to get our attention when we genuinely want to know His will. Through a dream, the angel of the Lord reveals to Joseph that he can be certain what God is creating in Mary is from the Holy Spirit. AND the angel reassures him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. . .” Joseph, you have what it takes to depend upon Me in this supernatural story and to stand up for Me and for My purposes in front of those who will discount or shame you.
Joseph’s courage astounds me. He was willing to be Mary’s protector and provider as he adjusted to a drastic change in his story when he didn’t know what the next day would hold. Not to mention months and years. He trusted God to give him wisdom beyond what he could imagine as he became the parent of the child who is the Messiah, the God-Man.
I pray for qualities like Joseph: willing to see people and circumstances from God’s perspective even when it means being misunderstood; taking a stand for the Lord when it’s unpopular or looks downright foolish; not so “set in my story” that God can’t intervene and redirect me; willing to surrender where I live, what my career looks like, and allow my personal life to be “upside down” for the sake of offering His message of forgiveness to the world. “For he will save his people from their sins. . .”
I pray you find fresh awe in your spirit while reflecting upon the Greatest Story Ever Told. Merry Christmas~