When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV
I will not lie.
I actually enjoy some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. Basically, I like all the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.
Because I am drawn to the less-than spiritual side of Christmas I have attempted to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.
Like most people, I tend to overlook Joseph because Mary is obviously the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is the picture-perfect example of how we should all respond to God’s call. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to become the Mother of the Jesus.
It’s impossible not to love Mary.
However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.
The text tells us that God considered Joseph to be a righteous man. That, in and of itself was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. It’s important to note that at this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law and their religious community. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.
According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every standard, well, more than a little crazy. Most of us would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish tale about God and angels to cover-up her indiscretion.
God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.
I think my favorite thing about Joseph is how he ignored the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was well, a hussy (for want of another word).
I am persuaded that Joseph’s family and friends were convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.
Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God almost always involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.
I do not believe there is anything wrong with the fun side of Christmas celebrations. I am convinced that the God we serve is the originator of fun and joy. My prayer for all of us is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.