Each Christmas, I reflect on the story of Christ’s birth and the wonderful lessons it provides to those who want to work to protect the unborn and build strong families.
I am particularly inspired by the courage that Mary and Joseph displayed through what must have been an incredibly stressful time for them. And as a father myself, who once faced an unplanned pregnancy with my girlfriend-now, my wife of 36 years, I certainly can relate to Joseph’s dilemma. But it would seem that not everyone shares my admiration for the man who God chose to be Jesus’ earthly father.
Just check out Christmas greeting cards. It’s not unusual to see ones without Joseph in the picture—even though he was clearly in God’s picture in the birth of Christ.
And how about Christmas songs? Songs like “Mary Did You Know?” have captivated millions. Many other songs have been written about that night. Mary has quite a few, the shepherds get their mention, the wise men get a memorable tune in their honor, and even a little drummer boy, who was not even in the Bible, gets a song.
But it is harder to find songs about Joseph. Why is that?
Scripture tells us that Joseph was a righteous man and, upon discovering Mary’s pregnancy, wanted to “put her away quietly.” He had the legal right to accuse Mary of adultery and have her stoned. But, Joseph obeyed the angel who was God’s messenger to him and became a husband to Mary a father to the child growing inside of her.
You see, Joseph’s planned course of action would have forever altered the Christmas story and had far-reaching implications on the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.
Prophecies said that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown. Without Joseph, there was no reason for Mary to attend the census in Bethlehem. No reason for her to give birth in one of its stables.
Prophets also predicted that the Messiah would travel to Egypt as a child. A single woman without protection and carrying a young boy would have hardly made the journey. Then there was Herod. If wise men from the East came searching out the Christ-child and spooked the despotic ruler, who would help protect her from his wrath?
Some might argue here that God is God and He would have made a way for Mary and Jesus to thrive without Joseph. Fair enough. But God did not. His actions reveal that His desire was for Joseph to be a central part of the story. Fatherhood matters to God and to the well-being children. And so does a child being raised by a mother and father united in marriage. You see, Jesus’s birth supported the high ideas of God’s scared design for the family.
Indeed, Jesus could have come into the world via a single mother. This would have fulfilled God’s purpose, but it would have violated his principle—this high idea for how God ideally wants children to come into the word.
Thus, the angel Gabriel did not stop at giving Mary a message of hope; he went and told Joseph as well. The Creator of marriage and family understood that the best environment for raising a child was within the shelter of a loving marriage.
Even when the child was Jesus.
So Jesus, the Son of God learned what it was to be a man from Joseph. When we rejoin the story at the start of Christ’s ministry, he is a carpenter— Joseph’s profession. No doubt, he spent countless hours with his dad in the shop learning the trade. No doubt, as a loving father, Joseph would have carried Jesus on his shoulders and shown Him how to be gracious and compassionate-attributes that were central to ministry Jesus would have one day.
In John chapter 8, the Jewish leaders reacted to Christ’s rebuke of their hypocrisy by implying that he was an illegitimate son. While scripture does not say how the community responded to Joseph’s decision to marry his already pregnant betrothed, it is probably safe to assume that their reaction was not compassionate. When Joseph took Mary as his wife and accepted Jesus as his son, he would have accepted the community’s probable accusations that he had committed fornication and that Jesus was his illegitimate child. For an honorable man like Joseph, such ridicule would have been difficult to bear. But Joseph bore the undeserved shame and injustice anyway. Just like Jesus would when he died for our sins on the cross.
You see, the importance of fatherhood has not changed. When Care Net, one of the nation’s largest pregnancy center networks, surveyed women who have had abortions, it found that 3 out of 5 women cited the father of the child as the most important influence on their abortion decision. We also know from decades of social science research that children living in father-absent homes are significantly more likely to suffer negative outcomes across every economic, health, educational, and emotional measure of child well being. Indeed, we need more men today to ascribe to themselves the virtue and the character of Joseph to protect women and children–unborn and born.
God created the Holy Family as much as an example for us as he did to provide for His Son. Therefore, as Pro Abundant Life people, we believe that the best environment for raising children is the environment that God wanted for His own Son. An environment sustained by marriage.
So this Christmas, I am going to make sure that Joseph gets his fair share of Yuletide attention, and I am going to thank God for empowering him with the message of life so that Mary and Jesus, in his humanity, would experience abundant life.