It is simply incredible the way faith changes one’s life and one’s motivations.
That certainly was the case with Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, and for this reason, it’s a shame that Joseph doesn’t get more notice in the Gospel accounts. In fact, Joseph is truly a silent character. The Scriptures record not one utterance from this man’s mouth. He’s talked about, but he doesn’t actually talk. And ever notice how in all the Christmas hymns and carols that we sing, it’s always “Mary this” and “angels that”, “wise men here” and “shepherds there,” but there is no mention of Joseph? In fact, I’ve scanned through all the Advent and Christmas hymns in the hymnal (and there are quite a few of them) and even the animals get plenty of billing—even an ASS! (LSB 370, Stanza 2)
But, Joseph gets not even a passing mention.
Well, I’m sure Joseph would have been just fine with this. He seems like a pretty humble guy, and besides, I think he would have wanted everything to be all about Jesus, anyway. However, now that Christmas is a couple of weeks behind us, maybe we can look at this account again from a different perspective.
Let’s take a look at the father-figure that God places in Jesus’ earthly existence and see how this godly man is able to serve as a godly example to each of us at the start of a brand-new year.
The first lesson we learn from Joseph involves the drama of Mary’s unexpected, unplanned, and scandalous pregnancy. Mary could have been stoned to death on the charge of adultery, following Old Testament laws such as Deuteronomy 22:13-29, and Joseph would have been justified in throwing a fit over her presumed unfaithfulness and demanding that such penalties be carried out. He knew he wasn’t the father of her unborn baby. Her condition posed a serious threat to his reputation. What would people think?
How would you react?
Yet, surprisingly, we are told that it was in a quiet manner–very fitting for a quiet man–that Joseph makes plans to divorce Mary. He doesn’t want to do it in a public way nor does he want a pitched battle in divorce court. No. But with the fresh insult of betrayal and adultery still hanging in the air, Joseph honors his betrothed and wants to spare her as much disgrace as possible.
His actions are a world apart from the attitude so prevalent in our culture today where people don’t bear offence and insult in quiet and humble ways. Our culture is more concerned about protecting one’s own rights and interests. If anyone should infringe upon our individual right to be happy, we tend to make a big scene. We vent all about it on social media. We have no desire to set our own interests aside for the sake of respecting those around us, and even though we may not always say it, we seem hard-wired to always consider first what’s in it for ME? How will this advance MY interests? What recognition will I receive? How much will I get?
Joseph had several options open to him, but he chose the way of love. How wonderfully he fits the biblical description of love defined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
We all love to hear about love. And while, I’m sure we’ll find plenty of opportunities to discuss this as we go through the Gospel of Matthew, let me just point out here that in 1 Corinthians 13, the Greek word for “love” is agape. This word is very different from our English word for love. Agape means sacrificial love, a love that gives up “self” for the sake of another. Agape is truly and ultimately the love that Jesus will show when He dies on the cross, but how sweet is the thought that just like any little boy who learns by imitating his dad, Jesus too, had a wonderful role-model in Joseph and learned at the earliest age what true love looked like by watching Joseph love Mary.
Now, when the angel finally does explain to Joseph in a dream that the child in Mary’s womb was from God, Joseph’s silence also speaks volumes. Notice Joseph doesn’t doubt like Zechariah did when the angel told him about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Joseph also doesn’t put in a request for a sign like so many in the Old Testament: Gideon, Moses, Hezekiah, etc. He doesn’t voice any concern over how his reputation might suffer. He doesn’t complain about having to raise a child that’s not his own. He doesn’t even complain that he’s going to have to wait nine months to consummate his marriage.
Silently and without question he takes a scandalously pregnant woman as his wife and raises a child that, for all intents and purposes, wasn’t his. Yet, it was through this silent service—not his words—that Joseph communicated loudest and clearest of all what genuine faith in God’s redemptive plan looks like and how true love shapes the way we see the world, other people, and the problems around us.
Joseph traded his wants, his dreams, his desires to silently serve an adopted son. How much would you be willing to quietly give up in service for another?
At the heart of such a question is motive. What are our motives for doing what we do? Who am I trying to impress? If I give my life away and nobody ever knows about it, am I okay with that?
He was not motivated by people’s applause. Rather his motivation was God’s redemptive plan. He was told, “[the child] that is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And what does Joseph do? “When [he awoke], he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took Mary to be his wife.”
Yes, as I mentioned already, as the babe of Bethlehem grew into a man you can bet He learned from Joseph all about serving and suffering in silence. Isaiah writes of Jesus, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, He did not voice complaint.” We know how this scene played out on the gruesome night of His trial before Pilate. Though unjustly accused, Jesus never set the record straight. Though mistreated, He kept silent. Though ridiculed, He held his tongue. Christ served and suffered in silence and endured the agonizing silence of Heaven, itself, until that final cry in the dark, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It is because of this profound, indescribable love—agape love—that we are motivated to bear our crosses by serving others, even when there are no praises and even when we end up with less than we started with. It is simply incredible the way faith changes one’s life and one’s motivations. To hear of God’s great love and gift… His sacrifice to serve and to save us. It changed Joseph’s life forever after. These beautiful words are meant to change us, too.