It wasn't until I had kids of my own that I truly got
Christmas, and even then it took several years for it all to really sink in. It was the Christmas Eve when my eldest daughter was about 3 years old. We were at the evening church service, and my daughter and about four other young children took the stage to sing "Silent Night." I was in the back of the small, crowded sanctuary running sound; and as I stood there watching and listening to my little girl sing my favorite Christmas carol, I started getting a little choked up (something that seldom happens to me). In that moment, overwhelmed with the pride and joy that only a father understands, I got it. I understood what it all meant: the Christ Child lying in the manger, the Word become Flesh...all the carols, all the Sunday School flannel graph lessons finally made sense to me.
This being the fifth day of Christmas, the last couple of weeks have brought with them—amid the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and myriad family get-togethers—moments of reflection and meditation on the events that unfolded in first century Palestine. The virgin with child, no room at the inn, angels and shepherds, frankincense and myrrh. In all this pondering, there always has been one part of the story that always has bothered me a bit: Joseph; the betrothed, the father, the carpenter who is only mentioned by name nine times in the gospel accounts.
What bothers me is not anything he did or said in the story, but rather how little is said about what he did or said. The man entrusted with raising the Son of God is reduced to a bit player who just sort of stands in the background. Even Zacharias, the cousin-in-law and father of John the Baptist, gets more screen time than the surrogate father of our Lord.
Particularly troubling are a few lines of the story nestled in Matthew 1
. They read: "This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means 'God with us'). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."