“When Joseph awomke from sleep, he dd as the angel of the Lord commanded..” (Matthew 1:24)
Last week our church had a nativity festival as we celebrated the opening of our walk through Nativity. It’s amazing how varied figurations on a simple theme one can have. We had home made ones, Hummel figurines, Some very life like, some not so much. All beautiful and meaningful.
We hadn’t unpacked our nativity sets yet (we have several) but if we had I know which one I would bring. It’s by far our most simple, yet to me most meaningful of our nativities. It’s two simple wood carvings, well three if you count the sheep. Mary is kneeling and Joseph has swept up Jesus and is holding Him high in his arms.
It’s a simple set to be sure. The faces aren’t even carved into them. Yet it’s my favorite for two reasons. One is that it shows the joy that Joseph and Mary must have had in the birth of Jesus. Yes, in less than perfect circumstances. Yes the Virgin birth is hard to explain and will follow them. Despite all of this, they were holding their baby. Their little boy. A miracle, whose importance even they hadn’t come to grasp yet.
But the other reason why I love this nativity is it puts Joseph in the middle of the action. We tend to forget about Joseph. He says nothing in the Gospel tellings of the incarnation. He has no Magnificat. No cousin to rejoice with, as Mary does. Even in our nativity scenes Mary is front and center with the baby, but Jospeh stays in the background or off to one side. Probably many first time fathers know all about being in that position.
Yet I love Joseph. Think about Jospeh’s role. He is asked to be the earthly father of Jesus. The Son of God. It will be up to Joseph to teach Jesus what it means to be a man. The first images of His Heavenly Father will come though the rough hewn hands of the carpenter asked to watch over Him.
Jesus will learn about hard work, honesty and integrity from Jospeh. Jospeh will teach him how to stand up for himself, while not resorting to violence. He will teach Jesus about strength as much as His mother will teach Him about tenderness.
Jospeh will do all of this knowing that in the end Jesus Belongs to His Heavenly Father. Joseph will do it all not out of duty, but becuase he loves Mary and he loves Jesus. And He does it all behind the scenes. Quiet, behnd the scenes Joseph. But without HIm what would happen to Jesus?
Jospeh’s story reminds us that our purpose in life need not always be in the spot light. Our purpose isn’t always filled with glitz and glamor. For some of us, we are called to be Joseph. We find our heroism not in fighting fires or capturing a major villan. No, our heroic moments come in going to work when we don’t want to. Taking the extra time to scrap off the window of the car your daughter will drive to school that day so she won’t have to. Walking the dog at night so your kids don’t have to go out in the dark.
It’s the heroism that comes from sitting through the same school play for the third or fourth time because your child is in it. Going to the concert where thirty children play the Recorder, badly. But you applaud because your child, or grandchild is playing. It’s a heroism that comes from playing a game even when your team is on, reading Green Eggs and Ham for the 5ooth time and still doing the voices.
Its a heroism that comes from teaching your kids to drive, keeping everyone quiet at breakfast so your wife can get some extra sleep. Cheering your son when he gets a hit, or strikes out. Holding your daughter when she has her heart broken for the first time.
It’s the heroism that comes from those “Josephs” that have no children, but still take time to lovingly quietly encourage their students, the teens at church or their neighbors, being an example of love and grace.
Its the hero who kneels with his spouse and prays for their family. The hero who gets everyone up for church, even when mom doesn’t feel well. Who lets their kids see them read their Bible. The hero who gently teaches them about Jesus in a hundred small ways every day.
I’m thankful for Mary and her faithfulness. But in this holy season, let’s give Joseph that quiet hero in the background some love as well. And while wer’e at it let’s be thankful for the Jospehs in our lives. And perhaps try to be a better Joseph to those in our care.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><