I spent this past weekend in Cottonwood Arizona, with some wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord. A friend invited me to speak at her Christmas luncheon, and then the pastor invited me to stay over and give the Sunday morning message. It was an honor, and I had a wonderful time.
On Sunday I gave a message about gifts. I looked at each of the main participants in the Christmas story and looked deeper than the familiar words memorialized in song and story. I looked at their part with new eyes, and tried to see what gift they gave Jesus. What did God value about their offering? For the next week, I'll share some of my insights as we lead up to Christmas. And I'll start with Joseph.
Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married, but while Mary was still a virgin she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph’s initial intent was to break the engagement quietly. Imagine how hard this must have been for Joseph. He was fully committed to Mary and he expected Mary to be faithful to him. To discover that she was not would have been crushing personally, and very embarrassing publicly.
After Joseph decided to quietly divorce Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to go ahead with the marriage, and that the baby would be the Savior of God’s people.
Joseph obeyed and took Mary home to be his wife. Read in the context of today’s cultural morality, we don’t fully understand the risk and sacrifice it took for Joseph to continue his engagement with Mary. We may think, “How nice. Joseph did what he should have done.”
However, in Joseph’s day, Mary was considered an adulteress, and according to the Law of Moses, should have been stoned to death. This created a big problem for Joseph, because he loved the law. He had carefully lived his life to obey God’s commands and thereby earn the respect of the religious leaders and other men in his community. But, he also loved God, and Mary.
Faced with the fact of Mary being pregnant with someone else’s child, Joseph‘s first reaction to break the engagement blended Joseph’s obedience to the law, with mercy and kindness to Mary. That would have been more than anyone expected of Joseph, but then God asked him to take the next step of love. God asked Joseph to sacrifice his hard-earned reputation for Mary and her unborn child – God’s son.
Verse 24 shows us Joseph’s true character, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” No delay, no questions, no arguing. God asked Joseph to prove his love for his wife, his son and his God even though it meant losing what mattered deeply to him – his reputation.
There’s no mention of Joseph after the birth of Jesus. In fact, there’s a passage in Mark that hints at Joseph’s loss of reputation:
Mark 6:3: Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?
It was customary among Jews to describe a man as the son of his father – not mother. It is very likely that there were accusations about Jesus’ parentage being circulated even 30 years after his birth, especially in Nazareth where Jesus was raised. Maybe people for years thought Joseph was weak, and had been taken advantage of by a lying woman.
Joseph sacrificed much in the eyes of the world for God. The truth is, while others may overlook our sacrifices, they never go unnoticed or unappreciated by God. Joseph lived his life in the shadows of the scandal surrounding the birth of Jesus. He apparently never regained his reputation, and quietly lived a life of righteousness.
And yet, we know today that Joseph received the honor of being the earthly father of Jesus, of kissing Jesus’ sweet face, holding His hand as they walked to the Temple and sitting around a dinner table with Him. God honored Joseph in life, and for eternity. What unbelievable joy.
At Christmas, we read quickly over Joseph’s role in the story, but there is a deeper message here for us. Looking behind the scenes at Joseph, we see that one of Joseph’s gifts to God was sacrificial love. Although Joseph gave up his reputation, he gained the greater distinction of serving God, honoring his wife and loving his and God’s Son.
My prayer this morning is that I would be like Joseph and obey and love with reckless abandon, and leave my reputation in God's capable hands.
In His Love,