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The two sides of parenthood
We were in town yesterday and we parked in the multi-story carpark.
We got the lift down from the 11th floor, the lift stopped at the 7th and on got a lady with a pretty much newborn baby swaddled to her front in a sling.
As we travelled down in the lift she was obviously besotted by the little one.
As she stood there she was constantly adjusting this, was he comfortable, moving that would he be warm enough, checking that - would he be safe.
There is a palpable pressure that comes with being a parent.
the amazement of parenthood of set by a sense of foreboding, and responsibility.
whether that is the joy of a new baby offset by the I have no clue how to change a nappy, or what if I drop it, babies do bounce right!
There is the joy we feel as our children grow up versus the terror we experience when they start to make their own way in the world and we realise we can no longer be their ultimate protector, there superhero that we once deludedly thought we could be.
The great responsibility to meet your children’s needs and help them to grow up in the way they should go can be paralysing.
On one hand there are the shared disappointments, the differences of opinion as our children develop their own identities.
The times when you have to be firm to be kind; yet feel like the worst person in the world.
And then on the other hand there are those wonderful moments when our children just throw their arms around us, or we over hear them speaking of us and saying(when their young), “ She’s the best Mum ever” or as they get older, “My dad’s not too bad” which I believe is pretty much the same as declaring your undying love, and appreciation when your a teenager.
Joseph the adoptive father
When we consider the Advent story focus on Mary
how it must have been so hard to bear a child so young.
how favoured she was
how difficult taking a journey at that stage of a pregnancy must be.
All of this is true but we often overlook Joseph in the story - he becomes relegated to a bit part in our nativity scenes.
The bible has little to say about Joseph but what it does say gives us real insight into the man if we ask the right questions.
We know his family was from Bethlehem, we know he was a descendent of King David, we know he was pledged to be married to Mary.
Matthew’s gospel tells us...
Matthew 1:18–25
But so much is left un-written.
I wonder if it was a simple as this.
Yes Joseph was a man who followed the law, he was clearly a man who recognised the presence of God in the form of the Angel in his dream but I wonder if Joseph ever struggled with believing Mary’s account about the her encounter with the angel of the Lord and the overshadowing of the Spirit?
, in coping with the reality of the situation - Was hat really God’s baby growing inside of her?
In his embarrassment, it would have been natural for Joseph to consider treating Mary like the woman caught in adultery in John 8—to condemn her and cast the first stone.
What’s more, in addition to publicly shaming Mary, it was within Joseph’s legal rights to impound her dowry and demand a refund for the bride price he had paid.
Without anyone begrudging him, Joseph could have then gone on to find another wife, one without so much baggage.
A complex situtation summed up in a single line...
“… being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame”
A Displaced Family.
Joseph is unfairly neglected figure within the Christmas Story.
He and Mary were engaged, which according to the law of the time was a pre-marriage contract.
The fact that he is not the biological father of the child is embarrassing, to say the least, equalling fornication.
Still, Joseph does not turn away from Mary, but undertakes the whole journey with her.
Jospeh had a dream recounted in Matthew, a dream that would both save, their child but also cause them to be outcasts, a displaced family in a foreign land.
He received guidance from God, which he followed as obediently as Mary herself.
Matthew 2:13–15
Was it really as simple as this for Joseph?
Did Joseph worry about how, as a refugee, he was going to physically protect and spiritually nurture his family when they got to Egypt—so far from his own home, religious base, and family support system?
Did he have to strain to make a living in a foreign land, since he couldn’t depend any longer on his usual Aramaic-speaking customers in Nazareth?
Did Joseph have to stay up late, after Mary and Jesus had long retired, so he could learn enough Egyptian and Greek to do business?
Did the Magi give enough to tied them over, Were they a middle eastern universal credit?
A reminder that he is an adoptive father.
Joseph would have had all the pains, joys, and worries of any human parent.
but with an added dimension, his son was God’s son.
As time went on Joseph would have been constantly moving between being the father, and knowing that he was not the father.
I wonder how Joseph take 12-year-old Jesus’ question at the Temple?
When Jesus asked, “Didn’t you all know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
Luke 2:49
While Mary was treasuring these things in her heart (Luke 2:51), did that question cut Joseph to the core?
Was this yet another reminder to Joseph that he was indeed not the father?
In an honor-shame culture, did Joseph ever want to respond to the scarlet letter people pinned on him and Mary amid rumours of an illegitimate son?
Joseph - joining the dots
My most burning question, however, concerns how much influence Joseph had on Jesus.
I wish the gospel writers would have told us, but they obviously had more pressing details to relate.
Yet the Gospel authors give us information to help fill in some of the gaps by the very absence of their writing.
The “under-narrated” plot-lines serve to mobilise our imagination, so that we ask probing questions and try to connect missing links in the narrative.
Matthew does leave hints that demonstrate the legacy Joseph passed down to his adopted son.
For example, although Jesus was not from the bloodline of Joseph, Matthew gives us Joseph’s genealogy to demonstrate that Joseph was “a son of David,” the messianic title handed down to Jesus as the Gospel proceeds.
But of course, whereas Joseph was a son of David, the Gospel will go on to show that Jesus is the Son of David—the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt 16:16).
When Matthew narrates how Joseph saves his family by going to Egypt, he intends to draw comparison with and remind us of Joseph to ‘technicolor’ coat fame—who we read in Genesis also heard from the Lord in dreams and whose exile in Egypt also saved his family (Israel) from famine and death.
- Jospeh was a provider for his family.
If Joseph’s story takes us back to Genesis, then it sets up Jesus’ ministry as a new exodus and Jesus himself as a new kind of Moses who will save his people from their sins Matthew reminds us of this in Chapter 1(Matt 1:21).
The gospels show Joseph as a Provider but my favourite picture of Joseph is as a redeemer and as a protector, two things the Jesus was sent to be be, two things that Jospeh modelled.
Let’s come back to when Joseph and Mary were betrothed.
We heard in Matthew’s first description of Joseph.
Although he was a righteous man, faithful to the law, he didn’t want to shame Mary openly (Matt 1:19).
To be sure, if Joseph were a law-abiding citizen, he would have obeyed Moses’ command in Deuteronomy 24:1, which calls for a husband to write a certificate of divorce to an indecent woman and then send her on her way
(see also Matt 5:31; 19:7).
Joseph was in a tough place.
If he refused to expose his fiancée as an adulteress, then it would seem to everyone else that he must have been the one who impregnated her in the first place.
He would have lost his reputation as a righteous man.
In expelling Mary he would have brought about public shaming, and through this the possibility of worse - we know from Genesis - Tamar a relative of Jospeh (mentioned in the beginning of Matthews Gospel in the Genealogy of Jesus, that long list of names we skip over when we get to in in our personal readings.
When Judah finds out Tamar is pregnant, he sentences her to public execution.
She is spared, of course, when Judah discovers that he is the father of the child.
- yes Jesus Family tree is somewhat complicated.
Even later in the Gospels in John 8:2-6
Not only did he face ridicule but also prosecution and punishment.
Jewish law demanded a man charge his wife immediately if she was not a virgin.
Roman law accused any man who failed to do so to be a pimp who was exploiting his wife as a prostitute.
Joseph sacrificed his honour and exposed himself to risk to redeem the character of Mary, not that there was anything to redeem.
He placed grace and mercy ahead of the law- something that his son was to do for us all some 33 years later.
Joseph a man of legacy
If we dig in to the Christmas story beyond the image on the Christmas cards, beyond the simple words on the page it is apparent Joseph left his son a great legacy .
For the sake of God’s kingdom and the salvation of his people, Joseph, a righteous man, likely spent the rest of his days enduring the unjust condemnation of raising a child born in sin.
Until his death, he had to grimace every time he heard Jesus derided by his Nazarene neighbours as “the carpenter’s son.”
Joseph taught Jesus much more than woodworking.
He modelled for his adopted son how, for God’s glory, he must drink the Father’s cup no matter the cost and choke it down despite its bitter shame.
Nevertheless, just as God took away Jesus’ shame by raising him from the dead, I cannot help but believe he will do the same for Joseph on the day of resurrection.
How awesome will it be when Jesus, the Lord of all, honours his adopted father, who suffered so much for him and yet refused to deny his son before men.
I bet Joseph will break down in tears when his adopted son says to him before his heavenly Father and all humankind, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Blessed are you whom people said all kinds of evil against because of me.”
Maybe then Jesus will even add: “You’re the best (earthly) dad, ever.”
Paretnhood is not merely a biological issue, but rather a form of responsibility.
We the fathers, the mothers, the aunts, the uncles of today, should not forget about the figure of Joseph at Christmas.
How he put the defenceless Mary before his own comfort.
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