Without question Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Christmas. Rightly so, for through the centuries it was for Him that all of humanity, scarred by sin and wrecked by their own ruinous lifestyle, longed for someone who could come and change life for them. It was Jesus and He is what Christmas is all about. It is Jesus who is the focus of the praise of heaven at Christmas. It is Jesus who Mary and Joseph had been given information that this is the one who everyone had longed for. It is Jesus. It is Jesus that the Heavenly Father would arrange the celestial bodies themselves so that wise men could find their way to bring him gifts. It is Jesus who was prophesied for hundreds of years, that He would take our sins upon Him and pay our eternal debt for the curse. It is Jesus who is the centerpiece of Christmas.
There are other characters in the Christmas story. Some who we are introduced to and others that we just kind of see at a glance. Shepherds who received the announcement at Christmas, wise men who saw the star, political leaders who were shaken in their soul when they heard about another ruler coming, and maybe the one person who gets more attention than any of those is the unnamed inn keeper who we assume told Mary and Joseph there wasn’t any room in the inn.
But probably the best known unknown man at Christmas is Joseph. He’s always around in the Christmas scenes, a part of the manger gatherings. People know his name but rarely give a second thought to this guy who was the earthly picture of father to Jesus. In my office there is a manger scene that was given to me by a friend. It stays out all year all the time. It is a blown glass representation of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the wise men. Sometime during this year someone knocked Joseph off of his place and broke him into several parts. There I found him, broken, dismembered, shattered. I put him back with the manger scene and just left him there in his broken condition because who really cares about Joseph anyway?
In fact in the Scripture, at best, he’s a passing thought. He’s mentioned in Matthew and Luke in the birth stories and even in the one account we have when Jesus was twelve and went to the temple. He hardly gets a mention in Mark or John. Beside that somewhere along the line and we do not actually know what happened, but he seems to be off the scene causing people to speculate that somewhere before Jesus’ death, somewhere before His ministry began, possibly Joseph died and Mary was alone and Jesus was without His earthly father.
Mary, of course, receives a great deal of attention as the mother of Jesus. The other characters seem to find their place in the story, but other than just fill in the blank name of Joseph, he’s pretty much forgotten. Can you imagine as God the Father was sending His Son to this earth entrusting Him to the hands and the heart of a couple to raise the Son of God what kind of care and thought went through the heart of God that He would choose Mary and a man named Joseph? What kind of guy is he? From what we see in Scripture there are only a few things that we can glean from and discover about him.
Joseph was a committed man. Now the reason I know that is because of his relationship with Mary. He was committed to her. In fact Luke says that they were going to Bethlehem to register because of taxation and he went with Mary his espoused wife. We, in our culture, find it hard to get our minds around the marriage practices of that day. Some have translated that as betrothed, others have translated that as engaged, both of which are probably lacking in understanding of the practices of that day in Judaism about marriage.
To be betrothed or engaged in their sense was a total commitment of life in a relationship with the other one. It wasn’t a flippant or thoughtless, flirtatious, love-like affair. No, when you took this step in society in relationship to another, you were committed to her and she to you. That is their relationship. Some have tried to describe it in this fashion that this betrothal or significant engagement was the equivalent of the marriage commitment taking place with a man and a woman in a ceremony today. It was that serious, that deep in commitment, that profound before God. The wedding became the outward celebration and expression between the couple, when in fact before God, they were a union. It was a serious thing and Joseph was committed to her.
She, under the law, could not be unfaithful to him nor he unfaithful to her, but something had happened that was out of the ordinary for she was expecting a baby. He had every right to walk away from her. He had reason to simply follow the practice of ditching this marriage and going on with his life. He did not do that. He was a man of such character and commitment that he would love her and believe in her even when she told him of something that had never before happened in history. Today if there were more men and women who would come to the altar of love with that kind of commitment, what a difference it would make. What a difference it would make in our spouses if we were committed and loved that way and what a difference it would make in us if we were those type men or women.
Joseph was also confident. In fact when you begin to see what happened in his life and what he saw, heard and experienced, you begin to realize that his commitment was built on a confidence that he had with God. In what way does the Bible reveal this? There were dreams that came to him where an angel of God spoke and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Matt. 1:20). He believed it and he was right.
There were the people who were searching for Jesus when He came. Can you imagine those wise men that stopped in Jerusalem and talked to the biblical scholars who told them to go to Bethlehem and you’ll find what the Scripture says, and they came. Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt and processed these men bringing their gifts, following the star, and Scripture? What an affirmation. Then as trouble was about to break out as the regional ruler was going to kill babies because of the fear that they had that another ruler was going to take over, so again, God spoke to Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the babe to Egypt.
Just consider how important Joseph really is. That he would have enough confidence in God to lead him that he would go even further away from home in order to be obedient to the Lord. I wonder how many earthly fathers there would be who would care enough about wife and child and relationship to God that they would confidently do what seems so strange and yet it was the perfect will of God. For many of us, and I really need to speak for me, we’re so reluctant just doing what the Lord asked us to do, going where it may be difficult or unusual or even strange, being obedient to God when everything seems to be abnormal about it.
A final thought about this forgotten man, Joseph was caring. The Bible does not have anything bad to say about Joseph. He’s concerned along with Mary as Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem at twelve. He is always attentive and supportive even as they travel and the birth took place under less than ideal circumstances. What a caring man he must have been. God selecting Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord, as the Bible describes her. What an amazing lady she must have been, but I feel certain that Joseph was that kind of considerate, thoughtful, caring man that was needed in the relationship.
As a result of that wonderful couple, you and I celebrate His coming for all of us while the Scripture says of Mary, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Turning them over and over and looking at them from a different vantage point, she pondered them. I must say that I believe, too, that His daddy, who was honored to step into the physical earthly role of being father to the Son of God, was used and blessed of God and did God’s bidding magnificently. This Christmas while we look at the centerpiece, Jesus, we give thanks for Mary and for Joseph.