Summary: A look at Joseph's place at the manger.
There is no greater Christmas classic than Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and there is no greater Christmas character than poor George Bailey. He’s even referred to several times throughout the film as “poor George.” You’re probably familiar with the story. George Bailey is introduced to us as a young man who saves his brother, Harry, and has big dreams of his own—dreams to travel the world, go to college, and build things. But, life happens to George, and poor George’s plans are always getting put on hold because someone else’s need always seems to be greater at the moment. George always makes the choice to give up his dreams to do what needs to be done. Others do well, and George, well he just sort of gets lost in the hum-drum of life. George’s plans first get put on hold when his dad dies. Then, they get put on hold because of the Great Depression and stock market crash. Then, his plans are put on hold by the war. Then, they get put on hold because his brother gets a great job opportunity. George is always sacrificing for others, and though George is integral to the story, he’s almost forgotten by those in the community, and if not forgotten, then certainly they’ve taken advantage of his kindness.
It reminds me a lot of the almost forgotten character of the Christmas story—Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Maybe he’s not so much forgotten, but he’s certainly silent. Did you know there’s not a single quote attributed to Joseph in the entire Bible? Not one. How un-dad like is that? You know dads are famous for great quotes, right? Here are a few:
“Ask your mother.”
”Don’t worry; it’s only blood.”
“Do I look like I’m made of money?”
“Hey! I was watching that show.”
“We’re not lost!”
“No, we’re not there yet.”
“If I have to stop this car!”
But, from Joseph, we get nothing. No, “Why me, God?” Not even a, “How can this be?” This is the man chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus, and all we know about him is he was a carpenter. Well, we know a few other things, too. We know he has royal blood running through his veins. Matthew tells us Joseph’s genealogy runs through King David. We know also that his marriage was arranged. That’s just how it was in those days.
I want to talk about three other things I learn about Joseph, and I don’t learn them from words spoken by him in the Bible. I learn them from actions he took. We might say his message to us is more walked than talked, and that’s as it should be. A life well-lived is worth more than all the sermons in the world. What do I learn from Joseph? Three things: selflessness, patience and obedience.
First, let’s look at Joseph’s selflessness. In many ways, Joseph is probably the most put-upon person in the Christmas story. Here’s a man who is looking forward to life with his new wife, looking to start a family, to continue to build his carpentry business, and with the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy, all that gets put on hold in a big way. I mean, this has scandal written all over it, and there are a lot of ways Joseph can choose to handle this situation. The extreme option would be to have her stoned. There were two counts. First, the adultery. That’s a no-brainer. Second is blasphemy. Seriously, God told you this? This is God’s baby? I’m thinking not! Another serious, though less extreme option, would be to issue a certificate of divorce to Mary, but that would be an embarrassment not only to her, but to her family, as well.
There must have been something more to Joseph and Mary’s relationship than an arrangement. Joseph, even before the angel shows up, “decided to break the engagement quietly,” as verse 19 tell us. It could have been love that Joseph had for Mary, though you understand love had little to do with arranged marriages. It could have been out of respect for Mary’s family. We don’t know what it was, but it was selfless on Joseph’s part.
Matthew tells us Joseph was “a just man.” The Greek word for “just” was first used of those persons who were “right” in their duties toward the gods and toward men, and also in reference to matters that were in accordance with that which was “right.” The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel gives us a more Jewish understanding: “If he has walked in my statutes and kept my judgments faithfully—he is just; He shall surely live! Says the Lord God” (Ez. 18:9). So, Joseph was a man who wanted to do the right thing, and one who followed God’s laws and sought to keep them.