Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Character of Joseph

One of my favorite movies about the birth of Christ is The Nativity Story, released in 2006. One of the reasons is that it has more about the character of Joseph than most nativity movies.

There’s not much we really know about Joseph. He was a carpenter in Nazareth, engaged to marry Mary. After learning she was pregnant, he resolved to divorce her. The text in the Gospel Matthew says he wanted to divorce her quietly and not expose Mary to public disgrace, “because he was a righteous man.”

But then he has a dream, and an angel of the Lord explains what’s happening. The account is not as lengthy as that of the angel and Mary in the Gospel of Luke, but it’s clear that Joseph does exactly what Mary did: he obeys. He “did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do” and takes Mary into his home as his wife. And when the baby is born, it is Joseph who obeys once again and names the baby Jesus.

He takes the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem for the census, and he was most likely with her when the baby was born and may, as the movie suggests, have helped deliver the baby (there wasn’t anyone else around in the manger). Eight days later, he and Mary bring the baby to the temple “to be consecrated to the Lord,” required for every firstborn male.

While the timing isn’t exactly certain, we know he was with Mary when the Magi visit and present their gifts. And then Joseph has another dream, where the angel of the Lord warns him that Herod is out to kill the child and to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. After Herod dies, Joseph has a third dream, and an angel tells Joseph to return to Israel.

We can deduce that Joseph taught Jesus to be a carpenter. We know that Jesus had half-brothers, and that Joseph would have been the father (whether you believe Mary was their mother depends upon whether you accept Protestant or Catholic teaching). But we do not know anything else about Joseph – his age, when he died, what he thought about raising Jesus, whether he had doubts like Mary seemed to have at times, or what his personality was like. And nowhere does Jesus mention or refer to Joseph.

We know he was a righteous man. We know he obeyed what he was commanded to do – three times. We know he trained Jesus in his trade, as any father would have done at the time. His job, one that he accepted in rather unusual circumstances, was to protect Mary and the baby, and then to raise the child as his son. He protected his family from both physical harm and the shame that would have attached itself to an unmarried mother and illegitimate child, especially in a small town like Nazareth.

He was an ordinary carpenter who was called to do extraordinary things, and he obeyed.

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray is asking the question, what character in the Christmas story is speaking to you this year? To see how others answer the question, please visit Faith Barista.


Megan Willome said...

So glad to see this! My husband wrote a little 50-page devotional on Joseph, and he often speaks about him.

Doug Spurling said...

Jennifer asked this question on facebook and I answered Joseph, I always liked him, thought of doing a post about him, but now you've done it, and masterfully. I relate to Joseph, God spoke to him while he was asleep, maybe that's the only time he could get through because he was busy or maybe afraid, Mt.2:21,22, 21 "Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee." I like him. In the wings making a difference on stage.

caryjo said...

One of the outstanding characteristic portions of Joseph... and as "Jo" I would hope to follow ... is instant obedience, even when no reasons were presented to him. Even if he wasn't totally sure of what the next step would be, when God said, "Do it", he did it.

[If only there were more "Josephs" in our world.]

Anonymous said...

Great post, Glynn! I loved that movie, too, and loved seeing the feelings grow between them. It couldn't have been easy betrothed to a man you didn't know.

Gwen Stewart said...

Glynn, I love this post.

I have always respected and even marveled at Joseph who, like Mary, obeyed God at great personal cost. Pardon me for treading on careful turf, Glynn, but like all men, Joseph could see Jesus growing from the outside but did not have the personal, intimate experience of feeling the Son of God grow on the inside as Mary did. It did not make him less of father, as the moment a babe is born the parents share the joy and the responsibility of raising a child. But in some ways, his faith had to be even stronger to endure the "shame" of the pregnancy, the long journey, and the birth, since he didn't feel the miracle squirming and kicking hourly.

If Joseph indeed attended Mary at the birth--we cannot know--this would have been quite counter-culture at the time. Even husbands who had sired many babies with their wives did not attend births in those days. Birth was an affair for women only. Did Mary have a midwife, a kindly female stranger--or was Joseph to deliver the child of a woman he'd never touched?

It's all marvelous in the literal meaning of the word, and right about now is when the hubbub surrounding Christmas finally settles so I can enjoy the wonder of the nativity account.

May God bless you and yours. Merry Christmas!

S. Etole said...

I've been thinking of the series you did on the different people involved last year. What a wonderful series that was. This reminded me of it only from a different perspective.

JofIndia said...

A wonderfully thought-provoking post, Glynn. And, like S.Etole, I still remember your nativity eye-witness accounts with great fondness.
Though, just for the record, I feel I should point out that, as in Catholic tradition, the Greek, Russian, Coptic and Indian, Orthodox Churches have all kept to the belief that Jesus was Mary's only child. Interestingly, here in Kerala, there is no linguistic distinction between cousins and brothers..

Sandra Heska King said...

I wish we knew more about Joseph. Is it because the main focus is to be on God the Father? I guess we never know what big things can happen as a result of our small acts of obedience.

I wondered, too, if Joseph helped deliver the baby. If he ran for a midwife. Or if Mary birthed Jesus all alone.

Patricia said...

"And he obeyed."

Thanks Glynn... great song on the video clip. We are watching that movie on Christmas Eve.

Caroline said...

Great post, Glynn. Both Joseph and Mary continuously amaze and inspire me in their humble obedience. I love this attention you give to Joseph's story. Merry Christmas!