THE MAN JOSEPH OF BETHLEHEM
Just as Mary’s story is told in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph’s story is found in the Gospel of Matthew. It appears from Matthew’s account that Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown and Luke tells us, with the census going on at the time, Joseph went to his “own town” to fulfill his tax obligations. (Luke 2:3) It follows that after learning of Mary’s three months pregnancy, Joseph would have taken Mary back to Nazareth where they were married and lived until the forced trip to Bethlehem. We can find Joseph’s own “annunciation” of Jesus’ birth by the recorded dream in Matthew 1:18-24. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.’ Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: ‘Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel.’ (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife.”
Perhaps, Joseph knew well the words of the prophet Micah 5:2 who proclaimed the day when a king, like David, would come from Bethlehem, a shepherd to God’s people.
However, I am sure that much was happening in Joseph’s mind and heart before he heard the words of the angel in the dream that changed his life. Joseph literally held Mary’s life in his hands since the punishment for adultery was stoning to death. Even if stoning was not considered, there was the humiliation and shame of a baby born out of wedlock. However, we find in our scripture that Matthew says, “Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man…” It was not being obedient to the law or his thoughts of justice that made Joseph righteous, but it was his compassion and mercy.
We can let our thoughts slip between the lines of the story in order to imagine the hurt and disappointment that Joseph felt when he heard the news that Mary was pregnant. Knowing that the baby was not his, and believing that Mary had been unfaithful, Joseph must have experienced the darkest days of his life. However, Joseph did not realize that while he was at the lowest point in his life, his spirit crushed, God was at work in Mary’s womb, doing the greatest thing God had done since the creation of the human race. God was orchestrating the birth of the Savior. God was also inviting Joseph to play a critical part in this plan. Something amazing was about to happen, but Joseph could not see it until it all played out.
The important thing here is that Joseph listened to God’s words in the dream and was willing to join the story of redemption. If he had refused, the story would have been vastly different. Maybe we are sometimes tempted, as was Joseph, to walk away from our problems in the darkest moments of crisis. However, we must remember that it is possible that God is taking those dark times and making something good, making something so awesome that it is beyond our imagination. Therefore, we must be cautious about walking away from disappointing situations and giving up in the dark times.
Joseph is perhaps the most overlooked character in scripture, yet it is because of his obscurity, he is remembered as an example of humility and obedience. Joseph spoke no words recorded in scripture, had no title, and had only a few lines written about him. Yet, Joseph shows us how we too can serve without expecting to be rewarded. Joseph’s calling was to raise the boy Jesus and teach him how to be a man. He did it without recognition…only because God called him in a dream to care for God’s Son.
God favors the humble rather than the proud. God’s greatest work in our lives may be difficult and challenging, and we may never receive recognition or the praise of others, but we are called to serve anyway, seeking nothing more than God’s satisfaction and glory.
God only asks that we be faithful, just like Joseph.
Re. Tim McConnell, Long’s Chapel