Advent: Day Sixteen
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. —Matthew 1:18-19
Overall, the Bible is pretty quiet about Joseph. There are no books written by him, no sermons… he’s kind of like a supporting character. He had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus. He never preached, prophesied, wrote Scripture, raised anyone from the dead, healed blind eyes, or led anyone into battle. Yet, God has a lot to show us about Joseph’s life, and his story begins in these verses.
First, we grasp within just a few words that Joseph’s calling has wrecked his life: He starts off as a young man, heading into life with a dream of one kind, and the calling of God on his life completely blows the train off the tracks. In Joseph’s day, to be betrothed was not just a light engagement; it was a covenantal connection. It was being married, while living in separate houses and remaining celibate. But here he was, this young guy, looking forward to marriage with this beautiful girl… and his girl shows up pregnant! And not only is she pregnant, but she says it was the Holy Spirit who made her that way. He decides to break it off with a divorce.
Joseph’s life was nuked. Derailed.
With Jesus on the way, Joseph’s dreams of a normal family were effectively dead. And along with Joseph’s dreams, went his rights: (1) The right to his wife and their long-awaited wedding night—after all, Mary was to remain a virgin until after Jesus’ birth—and (2) the right to a nice, long honeymoon… because newborns don’t leave much time for honeymooning.
The respect of his community was lost to Joseph as well. In their honor-shame society, Joseph and Mary would have experienced the pain of gossip that Jesus was illegitimate. The reality was, Joseph was not his first son’s biological father; instead, Joseph was given a stepson who didn’t share his DNA. And this was no typical stepfamily. How could it have been when, as Mary claimed, Joseph’s stepson was God?
What’s more, before Jesus crashed his party, Joseph had a trade and was working toward independence. It’s likely that a career in carpentry might have provided nicely for a ready-made family, but that’s if Joseph hadn’t been forced to become a refugee and abandon his established patronage on top of everything else. Joseph’s dreams were well and truly dead.
But didn’t Jesus tell us that, if you lose your life for his sake, you gain your life? As we continue Joseph’s story, we see that he opts not to divorce Mary. Instead, Joseph gives up his idols, dreams, rights, and GETS to be the husband of Mary. He GETS to be Jesus the Son of God’s adoptive father. He GETS to be the one who teaches Jesus how to hammer in a nail and the one who sits by Jesus when Jesus has fallen out of a tree and scraped His leg.
So, yes, there’s a death that occurs in the calling placed on Joseph, but this death leads to something that is way better than every single dream to which he dies. God, in His mercy, was allowing Joseph’s dreams to die, so that Joseph could truly live. It was a severe grace that many men should experience. Even in our progressive culture, many men look to their wives to fulfill some kind of dream. A woman’s husband becomes her accuser and judge by taking his demands and laying them upon her shoulders. The point of a wife is not that she should be a servant whose job is to fulfill all her husband’s needs. But a man’s calling, as illustrated so beautifully by Joseph’s example, is to die to his own perceived rights and be a leader who serves. A man’s calling is to model the gospel by loving his wife and family and laying down his life for them.
Meditation: The story of Joseph and his calling to be Mary’s husband points to Jesus and His Church. However, where Joseph was human and imperfect, Jesus was without sin, deserving of all the splendor of heaven and being worshipped… and He left all that was His by right, to take on the form of a servant and to live His life in this broken place, where He would pursue His bride.
Prayer: Dearest Jesus, thank You for pursuing Your bride, the Church, into low places. Even while we were sinful and didn’t want Your love, You bled for us, died for us, and never one time have You looked at your bride and demanded that we make Your life easier. Instead, Jesus, You gave up Your rights to heaven, served Your people, and laid down your life for us.