Every Christmas we face the same problem. What do we do with Joseph? How do we handle that moment of theological anxiety that strikes us when we are placing Joseph in our nativity scenes?
Everyone knows the drill. We unwrap the stable and place it in the center of the table. We unwrap the manger and place it in the center of the stable. We unwrap Baby Jesus, arms extended in blessing (whoever saw a baby sleep this way?). We place kneeling Mary next to the manger, the animals in their stalls and the shepherds are just outside the stable.
The wise men are there in all their finery are carefully positioned just behind and to the side of the stable. This, of course, is wrong as well. The wise men didn’t come to much later, but that’s another story.
Then, there’s Joseph. Now, Joseph has to be in the story. Jesus inherits the blood line of David through Joseph. We need Joseph to be here for all the prophecies to work. Jesus is related to David and thus, of the line of David, because Joseph is related to David.
We want him here, we just don’t want him too close. Do you know what I mean? Jesus is God’s son. Mary became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, not Joseph. We don’t want Joseph so close that his presence confuses us on the doctrine of the incarnation. Jesus is fully God and fully man. So, how close is close enough, but not too close, for Joseph? Where exactly do we place Joseph in the nativity?
Poor Joseph. He can’t catch a break. Let’s face it. The Christmas story is about Mary and Jesus. The faith Mary shows in accepting the angel’s promise. The faith of Mary to trust how God was working – even though she was still a virgin.
Joseph? Not so much. Even in those moments when you think Joseph would say something, he can’t get a word in edgewise. Do you remember when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in the Temple? They took Jesus to the Temple when he was 12 and when they left, Jesus stayed behind without them realizing it. It took three days to find Jesus. I don’t know about you, but my father would have worn me out if I had done something like this.
Mary doesn’t give Joseph that chance. When they find Jesus, Mary says, “Why have you done this to your father and me?” Joseph, of course, is standing right there.
If you ask me, Joseph has caught the short end of the Christmas story. Think about it. An angel comes and talks to Mary! An angel! I would have great faith if an angel came and talked to me.
That’s all Joseph had for nine months! Well, that and the baby that he knew wasn’t his.
Yeah, let’s talk about that baby. Can you imagine what Joseph was going through? Mary was pregnant. The baby wasn’t his and what’s worse, she told Joseph God was responsible.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Mary told Joseph the Holy Spirit got her pregnant.
Would you have believed her?
Joseph did. Not only that, but he put his life on the line for her and the baby. He protected them from Herod. He lived in Egypt and then moved to Nazareth to keep Jesus a little further out of the lime light until Jesus began His public ministry.
Joseph would have taught Jesus the Bible. He would have taught Him His memory verses. Do you remember when Jesus was tempted, and He quoted Scripture to hold off Satan? Those are children’s memory verses. Jesus would have learned them at home and Joseph, as His father, would have been the one to teach Him.
Can you imagine being the man God trusted to take care of His Son until Jesus was ready to reveal Himself in His public ministry? Can you imagine the stress of watching Jesus every day to make sure nothing happened to Him?
These are the things I think about when I place Joseph in the nativity scene. Of all the people there, he’s the one I have the most in common with.
I come to Christmas not knowing what to believe. I hear the songs of hope and joy, but I see what’s going on around me and somedays, let’s face it, it’s hard to keep the faith.
But we do. Even though, like Joseph, all we have a child and the memory of a dream that God up to something.
And we want to be in the middle of it. Well, again like Joseph, we want to be as close as we can get.