It was a wonderful half hour.
It happened on the day my daughter, Autumn, was born. She emerged into the world through a C-Section, and after the doctor was done with the delivery, and the nurses were through weighing her and foot-printing her, they handed her . . . to me. Karen and I shared a moment together with Autumn, then I was ushered into the recovery room to wait for the doctor to finish with Karen.
Autumn and I were alone in the room. I sat down. I looked at her there in my arms; she was wrapped in a soft white blanket and she was wearing a little pink cap. I looked into her big, blue eyes and she gazed back at me. I basked in the glow of new life and of unlimited possibilities. Autumn could do anything, she could be anything. It was indeed a wonderful half hour.
It was only later that I started to think about some of the possibilities that weren’t as wonderful. The possibility of pain in her life, the possibility of loneliness, the possibility of disappointment . .
Disappointment in me.
I felt so inadequate. Inadequate to protect her, inadequate to give her the care she deserved. Could I give her everything she wanted, even everything she needed, everything she deserved? Was I going to have the patience I would need, especially for an infant, and again when she was a teenage girl? I knew better than anyone how imperfect I am. I really wondered if I was up to the task.
How inadequate must Joseph have felt?
How many questions did he have as he held the newborn Son of God – the Savior of the World – in his hands?
Think about this: If Mary and Joseph were the only two humans present when Jesus was born – and there is no record of anyone else being there – then the very first hands that touched, that held, that protected the Infant King belonged to . . . Joseph. The first human, loving touch Jesus – God in flesh! – must have felt was Joseph’s.
But Joseph doesn’t get a lot of attention.
He’s there in the manger scenes but our focus is on Mary and the Christ Child. Joseph gets lost amongst the shepherds and the animals and the wise men.
He’s there in our Christmas pageants, but Joseph is usually a role for a shy young man. It’s typically not even a speaking part.
Do you know how many times Joseph is quoted in Scripture? Zero. How odd is it that such an important figure – the man chosen to be Jesus’ step-father, or adoptive father, or earthly father, however you’d like to refer to him – is totally silent in the Bible.
As Joseph held Jesus for the first time, I imagine he must have thought back over the path that had brought him to that time and place.
We first meet Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel when he finds out that Mary, the young woman to whom he is betrothed, is pregnant.
To Joseph, who knew he wasn’t the father, it sure looked like Mary was sleeping around. In that place and time a public charge of adultery carried the penalty of death by stoning.
It was Joseph’s right to denounce Mary public and to have her put to death.
Think about that for a moment.
It was Joseph’s right to have Mary killed . . . along with the child growing inside her!
In the story told by Matthew, not only did God place the baby Jesus into Joseph’s hands to raise, but God also entrusted Joseph with life or death power over God’s Son even before he was born.
Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. Because Mary was an apparent adulterer, his obedience to the law demanded that he could not marry her. But Joseph’s righteousness was tempered by mercy. His plan was to divorce Mary, but to do it quietly, without a public rebuke of her.
That was Joseph’s plan. It was NOT God’s plan.
Before he could divorce Mary, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph to go ahead with his marriage to Mary. Strangely, the angel tells Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Do not be afraid? What did Joseph have to fear? After all, it’s not the man who is put to death for adultery.
But this is what Joseph had to fear: Public humiliation. Ridicule for marrying this adulterous woman. Suspicion that he is actually the father of this illegitimate child. Joseph’s standing in the community – and in his own family – is threatened.
As Joseph held the baby Jesus on that first Christmas, he must have wondered how the public perception would affect the family. Would his friends desert him? Would he be welcome a the synagogue? Would he be able to get work?
And he must have pondered the impact the scandal already had brought. . .
Have you ever wondered about the whole “No room in the inn” thing?
Why were they looking for an inn in the first place? According to Luke’s Gospel that they were in Bethlehem because it was the hometown of Joseph’s family. Hospitality was highly valued in that time and place, but apparently not one of Joseph’s Bethlehem relatives would take them in. I would guess that was due to the aura of scandal that had attached itself to Mary, and, by extension, to Joseph.
As he looked into the eyes of that newborn baby, I imagine Joseph must have felt it was all worth it.
As I think about Joseph there next to the manger, I remember the words of the song “Mary Did You Know” by Mark Lowery (and performed on The Voice last night by the amazing Jordan Smith). It asks if Mary knew, as she held her baby, that He would grow up to heal the sick, to make the blind see, to raise the dead. Most strikingly, it asks, “Mary, did you know that this child that you delivered would soon deliver you?”
I can’t help but wonder, Joseph did you know?
Did Joseph have any idea how this child would deliver him . . . and the world.
I wonder if Joseph had any inkling of the Cross.
As He held Jesus on that first Christmas, could Joseph have imagined the sacrifice that Jesus would make for him . . . and for us?
So, the next time you look at a manger scene, look away from the center and let your eyes rest on Joseph for a while. Consider his example. Take some time to ponder what Christmas promises him . . . and us. And remember what Joseph was willing to do in response to that promise – he was willing to risk . . . everything.
Joseph was an ordinary man, who, through God’s provision, carried out an extraordinary task. He gives hope to all of us other ordinary folks that we can tackle challenges for which we feel inadequate.
Like being a dad.
(Adapted from my 2009 Christmas Eve Sermon at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Millersville.)