I heard a statistic that 40% of parents are unhappy about the part their child gets to play in the Nativity Play – whether it is in school or church. There’s always ‘competition’ among the girls as to who will be Mary…. Boys rush to be wise men and shepherds, and we can never have too many angels… but ‘Who wants to be Joseph?’
After all, Joseph…
- Has to hold Mary’s hand – what little boy wants to be seen near a girl, in public, never mind to have to hold her hand?
- Is silent – whether it be in the biblical accounts or our ‘creative’ Nativity productions, Joseph gets no lines, he doesn’t get to speak!
- Remains in the shadows of Mary and Jesus – the main focus of attention is not really on him. There’s not many who can ‘act’ that part in a play, never mind live it for real!
What adult wants to be like Joseph?
- It is hard to have to stand – we like to lead the way!
- It’s hard to not get to speak a line – we are used to having our say!
- It’s hard to stay in the shadows – day after day after day….
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.’ Of Joseph we might say, ‘What he did speaks so loudly that there was no need for him to say anything.’
Joseph is remarkably simple, but he also is simply remarkable! Matthew 1:18-25, records of him: ‘This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.’
- Joseph didn’t ask for that – but it was asked of him!
- He would not be applauded for it – but would be largely misunderstood!
- He wouldn’t get to see the best of it – because he would die before it was fully fulfilled at Calvary.
1) Joseph stance as he held Mary’s hand
Every Sunday the pastor would observe a husband and wife, holding hands. They held hands all through the service. It made him happy to see two such loving old folks. One Sunday, greeting the congregation as they filed out the door, the pastor said to this couple, ‘It sure does my heart good to see two such loving people as you. It’s quite an inspiration.’ The wife looked up at him and grinned, saying, ‘That’s not love, Pastor. It’s the only way I can keep him from cracking his knuckles during the service.’
The only way Joseph could save Mary from ‘public disgrace’ even that of ‘public stoning’ was to hold her hand!
How many of us would stand for that? When others seem to disappoint us and we have them at a disadvantage, how many of us would still hold them and protect them, instead of hurting and hounding them? Even, when it seemed the worst had come to the worst, Joseph still wanted to protect.
- How do we men handle disruption and disappointment?
- How do we treat those at our mercy, under our care… who are subject to the influence of our way and our say?
Joseph held Mary’s hand no matter who saw it and all the way through! It takes a man to do that!
The biggest problem in our country, our communities, our homes, our churches is men! We have a country of male wimps – little boys running around inside men’s bodies, but still being little boys at heart and in mind and with their hands! Boys are not men, neither are bullies, brats or bigots!
It has been said: ‘The reason why daughters love their dads is that there is at least one man in the world who will never hurt them!” The truth is, to be such, he will be a faithful husband first before he is a faithful father! How true.
The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother! Some times that means standing where we would rather not! Holding who we would rather not, because of how we are feeling at that moment in that place. We are ‘keeping’ them, for if we do not stand and hold their hand, what other hands will touch and taint them, tearing them apart?
2) Joseph’s sacrifice of a broken heart!
So much for the promises of God, but Joseph must have had his plans:
What man cannot stop and see the emotional and psychological distress that must have visited him on many occasions – to have to see his ‘bride to be’ carrying a Child that was not ‘his,’ and yet it was not sin and not shameful? What great questions and grave doubts he must have wrestled with…
- He had his plans – but his plans were no more!
- He had his hopes and dreams – but they were no longer!
- He had his reputation and his friends – but much of it and most of them would have gone because of the social scandal of their situation.
- When he and Mary left their home in Nazareth to go to Bethlehem for the census they would not return to Nazareth for some years but would end up as refugees in Egypt – plans scrapped, worlds turned upside down!
By the time Jesus began his public ministry at the age of 30, Mary is still mentioned, along with the other children Mary and Joseph had together – but Joseph is no longer mentioned. He didn’t live to be an old man, he didn’t get to see ‘on earth’ the fulfilment of all Jesus was born for.
In those ‘silent years’ the Bible doesn’t speak of between Jesus being the ages of 12-30, we hear nothing… but Joseph was there, nurturing Jesus, holding on to and looking for the promise. His plans were scrapped. He moved in the shadows, the record of his input, kept secret.
Such was his sacrifice. It takes a real man of God to…
- Live like that and give like that! Small men are selfish because they are scared to be men!
- Love and lose, allowing his heart to be reached and breached and broken!
- ‘Keep-on-keeping-on,’ no matter the disruption and distress!
- To actually put first those we ‘say’ we love!
What sacrifice is there that does not touch the heart and come from the heart? Such is the cost and commitment and consequence that it will break the heart if that’s what it takes!
Yet some men won’t even give up that hobby or the remote control for even one night! How rare is the sacrifice of Joseph’s broken heart among men today!
3) Joseph’s silence under God’s mighty hand!
As a pastor few things thrill me more than to see men taking God and their manhood seriously, to see men going-through with God, and to know men of God! We need to find a way of getting men into the life of the church, and we need a space and place for ‘men only’ just like there is for women.
This is why I love and want to be Joseph: He …
- Knew the voice of God
- Was sensitive to the heart of God
- Obeyed God
- ‘Got on’ with it!
1 Peter 5:6 proclaims, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.’ The context of this scripture is of an instruction that comes, in particular regard with men. This ‘humility’ will involve the silence of:
- Not knowing all the answers
- Not being in control
- Trusting God with our tears and fears and years
- Waiting for God to vindicate you
- Holding on for the promise to be fulfilled
- Genuine faith… simple trust… real manhood!
One man of God said: ‘God speaks all the big words in my life!’ Another put it: ‘God has every right to interfere with my life, wherever and whenever he wants!’
Joseph would subscribe to these – the man of God always must. With all my heart I want to be a man of God…and to know his favour in my home. I don’t want to be without his hand on my life, without his anointing and approval.
Men, we need to be the Joseph in the home of our generation. Seek God that he may lift you up in due time – speaking to you, speaking for you, speaking through you.
Men of God Josephs needed today!
Edgar Albert Guest’s writings in the 1800s are very much needed today:
‘A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost what God sent him here to be.’
Stuart D Reynolds is a pastor, revivalist and author who lives and works in the UK and USA. Link: firstname.lastname@example.org.