Rodney Dangerfield, the great comedian of the last generation, was famous for his line, “I don’t get no respect.” He would then describe a variety of humiliations and brutal dismissals from his wife, his children, servers in restaurants, and everyone else he has met during his day. He would then follow each insult with his trademark response, “I tell ya’, I don’t get any respect”.
When it comes to Christmas and respect, Joseph would know how Rodney Dangerfield feels. Of all the people in the Christmas story, Joseph is the one who doesn’t get any respect. This lack of proper honor begins at the beginning of the story.
Joseph is engaged to Mary, but now, Mary is pregnant…and it’s not Joseph’s child. Mary is pregnant with God’s Son (more on this later), but the whole point of the incarnation is a Savior who is fully God and fully man. This ends up the creating a very uncomfortable situation for Mary and Joseph. Mary is Jesus’ real mother but Joseph is NOT Jesus’ real dad. Some of the early insults thrown at Jesus accuse Him of being the son of Mary. Even then, Joseph was left out of the story. The New Testament writers pick up on this lack of respect and drop Joseph from the story completely after the visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve.
This lack of respect continues to this very day as each of us struggles as to where we place Joseph in the nativity scene. We want him close to Jesus, but not too close. Joseph needs to be a little close to Jesus because it’s through Joseph Jesus is brought into the lineage of King David and that’s important. But we don’t want him too close because don’t want people to think he’s the real father of Jesus.
God is the real Father of Jesus. Joseph is just His adopted father, step-father, stand-in guy…well, you get the picture. No respect.
Such is the plight of Joseph. We need him in the story, but we don’t really want him there. If we’re not careful, having Joseph stand around ends up confusing things.
But before we ask Joseph to go stand outside with the shepherds, let’s remember a few things about him. To be sure, we aren’t told a lot about Joseph. He’s significantly involved in the life of Jesus at least until Jesus is twelve years old. We have the story of Jesus in the Temple when Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus who’s stayed behind there. Even in that intense moment, it’s Mary, not Joseph, who speaks.
In fact, we have no record of Joseph ever speaking. We’re simply told about what he does. In the end, it’s the same for Joseph as it is for any other man. The only thing that matters is what you do.
And Joseph was compassionate. When he found out Mary was pregnant, he decided not to punish her publicly. Under the laws of the day, he had every right to have her put to death, but he didn’t. I guess he loved Mary that much.
Does this curious mix of righteousness and compassion remind you of anyone you know?
Joseph was a man of deep faith. After all, what kind of man would risk everything to marry a woman who had seemingly betrayed him because of what an angel said in a dream? Well, a man like Joseph. A man who knew the Bible stories well enough to know that God talked to His people a lot in dreams.
So, Joseph believed and married Mary. Not only married her, but took the child as his own and protected them from Herod’s threats.
We also know something else about Joseph, although indirectly. We know it through the ministry and life of Jesus. Whenever Jesus was pressed, exhausted or even dying, Jesus would quote Scripture. He quoted the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible and He quoted Deuteronomy, the everyday Bible of the Jewish people. As a father, Joseph would have been responsible for the religious instruction of Jesus.
Joseph would have taught Jesus how to pray.
Joseph would have taught Jesus to memorize Scripture.
Joseph, compassionate and righteous, was the man God trusted with Jesus. “Hold my Son,” God says to Joseph, “until I call for Him.”
Can you imagine how hard it was to be Joseph? For nine months, Joseph had only two things: a baby that he knew wasn’t his and a dream this was the way God was working.
Have you ever tried to remember a dream? How about trying to hold on to it for nine months?
How long before the child you know isn’t yours become yours? How long did it take Joseph to love Jesus? To really believe?
As I sit here typing these words a week before Christmas, I find myself feeling a lot more in common in Joseph. Like him, I really don’t have much of a place in the story. I don’t know exactly where to stand. And like him, the only thing I have this Christmas is a child who isn’t mine and a crazy dream that this might be the way God is working after all.
How long will it take me before the child becomes mine? How long will it take me to believe?
I think I’ll move Joseph in a little closer to Jesus in my nativity scene. He needs a little more respect. He’s earned it.