When Bill died, Ana was 12 and it seemed like the thing to do was be both her mother and her father. Although that isn’t a great plan, there are certain things that you have to do as a single parent, as many of you know.
But I can assure you, I never really knew what it was to be a father.
So when I read about Joseph, father to Jesus, I could not see life through his eyes – at least not as well as I could through the lens of Mary, His mother. The cultural differences between then and now are so disparate, not to mention the other issues with which I am woefully unfamiliar – customs of Jewish celebrations as well as the place of women and societal norms of that day.
All that to say, again, I don’t know what it was or is like to be a father – or man, uncle, granddad, son, or brother – then or now.
But it seems evident that Joseph was a good man. We are told that, yes, at first he was prepared to give Jesus a name and then divorce Mary quietly – not wanting to make waves. Knowing he wasn’t the dad did not throw him into a rage, but he seemed unwilling, at least initially, to raise a child not his. The Message translations tells us in Matthew 1, when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he was “…chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.”
But when the angel visited him in a dream, explained the situation, and told Joseph that Mary’s baby would fulfill a prophecy of old, Joseph did not hesitate. Although we hear little about him in the remainder of Jesus’s life story, we know that Joseph was a real dad, He taught his son a carpenter’s trade and, as the Bible is not reluctant to point out both the good and failings of people, it appears that he was not an irreparable embarrassment to the bloodline.
In my effort to find the blessing of four important characters in the story of Jesus’s birth, I struggle to uncover Joseph’s blessed part. I’ve looked for something remarkable, something memorable, something more than the third member of the Holy Family.
Perhaps I’m looking too hard.
I wonder, my lovelies, if the part Joseph played in the birth, life and death of Jesus is simply that he showed up. As a noble man, he looked after Mary from the start. Even though his initial response to the announcement of her pregnancy was to “put Mary aside,” as some versions say, he listened to the voice and vision of the angel and showed up.
He most likely got a lot of grief and uncensored remarks from the people around him, men on his crew, his siblings and parents, friends, religious leaders, even total strangers who learned about him by whatever “social media” they had at the time (aka, “the grapevine”).
He probably faced a lot of criticism and unsolicited advice from people who either didn’t believe what he knew to be true or who felt the need to chime in without any knowledge, faith, or common courtesy.
We read very little about Joseph, yet we know enough to understand the difficult situation he accepted: he believed an unbelievable story, cherished a woman in whom others saw no redeeming qualities, and raised Jesus as his own. He showed up when God asked him to.
I know first hand what it means to NOT be picked as the “Mary.” I was never the most loving, admirable, thoughtful, devoted, or model Christian (and we can talk more about that particular tricky subject another time). I’ve not been recognized as Employee of the Year, Golden Apple Teacher, or SuperMom (although my family thinks I’m OK). People don’t seek me out for advice, my name is not mentioned in gatherings when social, political, civic, or religious problems are being discussed and resolved, and I have not been recognized for achievement in any profession or position.
But most days, I – and thousands like me – show up and live like Joseph. We listen to the words we hear from God and follow them the best we can. We follow the pattern Glennon Doyle suggests:
Just Show Up.
It’s not magical. And we probably aren’t going to make history or be memorialized for our wit, wisdom, or benevolent sacrifices.
But I would bet – and I’m just spit-ballin’ here – that throughout Joseph’s life as Jesus’s earthly father, he would occasionally sit back and, while watching his son play and learn and preach, he would feel God’s loving smile shine on his heart, and he’d be ever so happy that he did just what God asked him to do.
He showed up.
May you be blessed and encouraged, this first Monday of Advent, by the willingness, selflessness, and humility of Joseph.