We are thinking of Joseph, husband of Mary and surrogate father of Jesus. He is a forgotten or overlooked person that played the most important role in the birth and early life of Jesus. What kind of a man would it take to care for a child that posed a threat to the establishment, in particularly to king Herod? And why do we hear so little about Joseph at Christmas?
The Jewish Christians, being more male oriented, respected Joseph more than Mary (Mt.1-2). No one, in his right mind, at that time would have dared to walk in this man’s shoes. Pregnant virgins without husbands were not accepted in his society. By protecting Mary, he risked both their lives. His intentions to leave Mary quietly raised more questions and complicated their marital fidelity. How could Joseph or Mary explain that they were helpmates of the Holy Spirit? God needed a surrogate father and stopped Joseph in a dream from further complicating Mary’s divinely induced pregnancy. Through Joseph’s adoption, the Messiah would be linked to the house of David and through Mary to the redemptive priesthood. God regarded Joseph as the best potential father for raising Jesus, the Son of the Most High.
The Lord had his angel speak to Joseph in a dream, “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” (Mt.1: 20-21). Joseph believed that the angel in his dream was a messenger of God and he accepted the responsibility to raise the Son of God. The fact that the writer of this Gospel linked the birth of Jesus with Isaiah 7: 14 suggest that Joseph may have been cognizant of the connection between the two. God had put him in charge over His own Son.
The second dream informed Joseph to flee to Egypt from Herod in order to save God’s Son (Mt.2: 13-15). The third dream instructed Joseph to return to Israel with his family. When he learned that Herod’s son was in charge over Judea, he settled in Nazareth, in Galilee (Mt.2: 19-23). Luke, in his Gospel, adds that Joseph took his bride to be (not yet married) to Bethlehem to register and pay taxes through the house and line of David (2: 4-7). It was Joseph that took the child to be dedicated where it was named Jesus and it was Joseph that went annually to Jerusalem with his family where Jesus stayed behind and caused concern for his folks (2: 21; 41-52). After the incident, the relationship between father and son appears to have been harmonious. We are told that Joseph was a just and gracious person. All his sons bore witness to his fatherly dignity when they too followed the Messiah.
Joseph, for me is an example of what God expects of a father. I remember when my father in 1939 tried to take us to safety from the Red Army. I remember how our mother hid us for three weeks from being tortured and killed. Throughout this time, our parents did not abandon us. They believed, and so do my wife and I, that one can never stop being a parent. The Bible does not even have a law that makes parents. It is by fathering or adopting that we become parents. And it is by divine decree that we are held responsible for the upbringing of our children. Children are a gift from God to parents and not to a community or a state. Fathers are endowed with the seed and mothers with the ground that enables the seed to grow. That seed cannot ripen without our care. There is no replacement or substitute for parental care. We live in a time when the parents are in need of an education and not the children. Woe unto a nation that replaces parents with systems and woe unto parents that neglect their children. I have seen this happen before and dread to see it again. If we want to heal our nation then start with the fathers; for, that is how God began with His only begotten Son.