I think Joseph has gotten a raw deal. In the whole nativity story, he is mostly overlooked, ignored or simply pushed to the background. The center of attention is – besides Jesus – Mary. And that may be reasonable, but Joseph was a man that can serve as a great model and inspiration for us.
In general, Joseph is known as the guy who married Mary even after learning that she was pregnant. Now not many of us would buy the whole Holy Spirit conception thing. I can imagine the conversation something like this. “Really honey, I didn’t DO anything! It was the Holy Spirit!” “Really? Really? Is that the best you can do?” “Yes! It’s true. An angel told me this would happen.” Where do you go from there? Where would any reasonable man go from there? And it wasn’t until God showed up in a dream and defended Mary’s story that Joseph believed her, obeyed God and married Mary. Usually that is the end of the story for Joseph. But that incident was only the start of what I think is a remarkable story that reveals Joseph as a godly man, listening to God’s voice, responsive to the Spirit’s direction, taking up his role as husband, father and provider. Here is some of the Bible narrative about Joseph.
Now when they [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
So four times Joseph has a God-dream: marry Mary, go to Egypt, leave Egypt, go to Galilee. Each time Joseph not only believes it is a God-dream, but he immediately responds and does what God asks – without putting up a fuss. Joseph didn’t complain about having to leave Israel to go to Egypt and once established in Egypt didn’t complain that he had to pick up again and go back home. But he couldn’t go home. Joseph had to start over in Galilee. Again sensitive to the Spirit’s voice and instantly responsive.
And while I agree that Mary’s submissive attitude towards God is rightfully commendable, Joseph is the one God uses to keep His son safe and fulfill prophecy. God trusted Joseph enough to pick him as the one who would raise Jesus in a godly household, be wise enough to deal with this “unique” child, ensure Jesus got the proper Jewish education and teach Him a trade, all the time knowing that Jesus was also somehow divine. What a tremendous honor! Can you imagine what it would be like to be able to carry – literally – the Divine Image in your arms AND not freak out? To me this speaks volumes of the kind of man Joseph was.
I have to admit, I wish I were more like Joseph. I would very much like to be entrusted with God-dreams giving me direction for my life. But even if I don’t get that, I still want to be as responsive, as open to God’s voice, as obedient as Joseph was to the leading that God has already given me. There are plenty of areas where I already know what I should be doing and instead of obeying, I stall, postpone or ignore. Joseph is the model for any of us who claim we want to be Christ-followers. And, like Joseph, I want the wisdom to handle properly the Divine Image I carry in my heart.