Christmas is coming and, along with my excitable childhood self, my mind is pulled around to the various classic thoughts of the season; peace, joy, love, A Muppet Christmas Carol – the usual. As a committed Christian my mind is also pulled towards what this season means for those who follow my faith – what we classically call “The Nativity”.
It’s important, at this point, to dispel any misconceptions people might have when thinking of The Nativity; remove all thoughts of tea-towels on heads, banish from your mind all images of tinsel-halos and a completely shatter any illusions of a “silent night”. The story of Jesus’ birth is possibly one of the most misrepresented stories in the Bible, and part-and-parcel of that misrepresentation is the maligning of Joseph. Recently I spent some time considering the character of Joseph, whilst writing a performance piece from his point of view, and I can’t help but feel he deserves a some more credit. Whether you believe the same as me, or not, you can’t help but acknowledge that the man God chooses to look after His infant son must be *quite* a guy.
Firstly, Joseph was brave… seriously brave. Forget any images you have of Mary’s home-town all rallying behind the prophesied Virgin Birth and letting her live in the lap of luxury, as soon as Mary’s supposed infidelity became public she would have been hauled in front of a lynch-mob for public execution by stoning – this was the standard middle/near-Eastern punishment for such crimes, and even today there are reports of such “honour-killings” for similar circumstances. In order to avoid that fate for Mary, Joseph had to take it on himself and stand with her in it. He had to claim her as his own, and all that came with her – including that potential judgement. From that point on he’s a social outcast and untouchable.
Secondly, Joseph was a flexible provider. No one le
arns how to be flexible like the man with no livelihood to depend on. God chose a man with a trade that could travel, but as an outcast carpenter there would be a freeze on anyone choosing to trade with him or employ him on contracts. This was further tested when moving back to his family home of Bethlehem, with a heavily pregnant wife in tow. Once again we see Joseph as an outcast; his whole family lived in the town and not one of them would offer so much as a futon to the son of scandal. Following a touch of quick-thinking and a convenient stable he continues to show his flexibility in finding new work in a new town. If common belief holds true the family were visited by shepherds who left a gift of sheep, and so captain-flexible takes a career shift to becoming a shepherd as well. A man of many talents.
Thirdly, Joseph was faithful. As far as we know Joseph
had no idea the current Jewish monarch had plans to execute his adopted son until he was already safe, and unlike his wife, he was never presented with an Angel to confirm his actions and reassure him of the future. All Joseph had to go on was some dreams, and from those alone he put his whole life on the line and relocated his family several times. I don’t know about the rest of you but I rarely have dreams with enough conviction to convince me a jaffa-cake is a good idea, let alone base huge life-decisions on and risk the alienation of my entire family. Yet Joseph demonstrates pure and humble trust, and carries that through even when things look their bleakest.
Finally, Joseph was man enough to know he was man. Joseph did all of the above, and raised Jesus to manhood (the last mention we have of him is when Jesus is twelve years old – the cusp of Jewish manhood) yet was still humble enough to know he had to let him go; that Jesus had more to accomplish than he could possibly teach him. When we see Jesus at twelve he is disobeying his parents to spend more time in the temple of the Lord. Despite being given the runaround by their adolescent son, and being pub
licly humiliated by him (a very big deal in first-century Jewish culture) Joseph and Mary recognise that he was made for more. They know they’re no longer adequate to manage his needs, and that their limitations have finally been reached. All they can do now is play supporting roles to the boy they have raised. Perhaps this is the way for all parents, but my hat is off to any who can handle that gracefully.
All in all, old Joe was a pretty solid player, and in a world where Mary is practically deified he’s a man who deserves more than a passing mention. It was my great pleasure to explore his role a little deeper and to write a performance piece to bring him to light and life again. As we swim deeper into the tides of the Christmas sea, spare Joseph a thought.