Advent is my favourite time of the year. The season of Advent introduces us to some incredible characters. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we hear stories of angels, wise men, shepherds and innkeepers. Perhaps one of the lesser focused on characters in the Christmas story is that of Joseph. Yet, Jesus’ earthly father has much to teach us about living a God-honouring life.
Christians often talk about the example that Jesus set for us to follow as his disciples. I often wonder how much of Jesus’ life was influenced by the example that his earthly parents set for him. None more so than that of his father, Joseph.
Joseph was a devout Jew
We first meet Joseph in the gospel of Matthew. He is introduced as being pledged to be married to Mary, but we are immediately struck with a bombshell. Mary is pregnant. The scandal! The gospel writer tells us that they were “yet to come together” (talk about being politically correct in your choice of words). You can imagine Joseph’s shock and betrayal when he discovered Mary’s pregnancy.
Joseph was a devout Jew who was faithful to the Law. He would have been aware that the Law commanded anyone caught in adultery to be stoned to death. What better proof could you get of adultery than to discover that your wife-to-be is pregnant when you know that you have “yet to come together?”
Joseph was merciful
However, we read that Joseph was a merciful man. He had no desire to expose Mary to public disgrace and possibly death. He therefore decided to divorce her quietly, so that she would be exempt of the consequences of being caught in adultery.
It seems as though Joseph’s understanding of God’s mercy was evident in Jesus’s life and ministry on this earth. Often, Jesus would show that following the Law word for word was not the point. The Law was meant to bring life. Mercy, forgiveness and kindness were more important than merely obeying rules. Joseph’s mercy towards Mary was a poignant foretelling of the Gospel that Jesus was coming to preach and live.
Joseph was obedient
As Joseph prepared himself to divorce Mary, we are told that he was visited by an angel in a dream, who informed him that Mary’s child was conceived by God’s Spirit and that Joseph should go ahead and marry Mary. Once again, if we put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes, we can imagine some of the concerns that he would have experienced after this visit from the angel. “Was that really God speaking to me or did I just have that dream because I still love Mary and don’t want to lose her?” “What will people say if I marry Mary and she is found to be with child?”
Yet, when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Joseph was obedient to God even in the midst of his doubts.
Joseph’s obedience is another attribute that Jesus valued in his life and ministry. I am reminded of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus cried out to God in anguish to “take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus and Joseph both understood that obedience to God’s plan was more important than their fears.
Joseph was faithful
The next time that we hear about Joseph in this story, Jesus has been born in Bethlehem. Another angel visits Joseph in his dreams. This time the angel informs them that Jesus is in danger – King Herod is searching for the child with the intention of killing him. The angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus, and escape to Egypt. Once again, Joseph must have had serious doubts about this plan. He would have had to leave the comforts of his family, his job and his home in order to obey God’s command. Not to mention travelling 150 kilometres on horseback with an infant – some of us struggle to get our children into their car seat to go to the shop down the road! Nevertheless, Joseph was faithful to God’s call on his life to protect and care for his family.
Once again, Joseph’s faithfulness to God’s call is an echo of Jesus’ life and ministry on this earth. Jesus often faced fierce opposition from all sides. Yet he remained faithful to God’s call on his life – even to the point of death on the cross.
Learning from Joseph
When we put ourselves into the shoes of Joseph in this story, it is easy to relate to his many doubts, fears and concerns. Our personal struggles may look different to those of Joseph’s. However, there are vital lessons that we can learn from Joseph’s story. Lessons of mercy over judgement; obedience in the midst of doubts; and faithfulness in the face of persecution. These lessons were echoed in the life and ministry of the man that Joseph raised – our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.