Joseph is the forgotten man of Christmas. Other characters in the Christmas story such as the shepherds and the wise men tend to get more attention; in fact, there are probably more songs or carols about the donkey than there are about Joseph! Yet his part in the Christmas story was vital, and he provides us with a tremendous example of obedience to God’s will.
The first striking quality of Joseph’s character is his compassion. He must have felt bewildered and betrayed when he learnt that Mary was pregnant. He knew that he was not responsible, so he inevitably jumped to the conclusion that Mary had been unfaithful. He could have subjected her to public disgrace and humiliation, but his compassion ruled out such a course of action. Instead he decided to divorce Mary privately to protect her as much as possible (Matthew 1:19). Even then, he agonised over this decision and its implications for Mary.
In the midst of this crisis God spoke to Joseph in a dream and instructed him to marry Mary because she was bearing the longawaited Saviour. Joseph showed great courage in responding obediently to the divine command. He had no idea where this decision would lead him. He was exposed to the wrath of Herod and had to flee to Egypt to save the life of the baby Jesus. Possibly he was subjected to gossip and ridicule back in Nazareth because people believed that he had acted inappropriately during his betrothal to Mary. Whether faced with uncertainty, the jealous anger of a tyrant, or the hostility and suspicion of the inhabitants of a country town, Joseph displayed outstanding courage.
The courage of Joseph was also closely allied to commitment. When Joseph obeyed God’s command to marry Mary, he probably sensed this decision would change the direction of his life. And so it proved. By naming Jesus, Joseph became his legal father (Matthew 1:21), and he took those responsibilities seriously. He provided for the material welfare and religious instruction of Jesus, and it was Joseph who taught Jesus his skills as a tradesman.
Joseph played a humble but crucial role in the early years of Jesus. His compassion, courage and commitment took the sting out of hostile public opinion and made it possible for Jesus to grow up in a stable, loving and nurturing environment.
So as we celebrate another Christmas season, spare a thought for Joseph. Let us not forget his part in the story, and may his example inspire us beyond this Christmas season into the year ahead.
God bless you all with His peace and presence this Christmas time and in the coming year.