Joseph, the husband of Mary.
It sometimes seems like Joseph gets swept aside in the story of the Nativity. Mary and Jesus are the main characters, and Joseph seems to have gotten the supporting role. Yet, as I have studied Mary this last year, and Jesus Christ's interactions with women, the more my appreciation for Joseph has grown. He exemplifies every good trait that you could want in a husband, a father, and in a man. I know so many good, good men who are a lot of like Joseph, but I also know that there are so many women in the world who suffer because of the bad choices of men. So as I've thought about Joseph I've found myself wishing that ALL men were like him and here is why.
If all men were like Joseph:
There would be mercy for women
The first place we are introduced to Joseph is in Matthew 1: 18-19 when, after finding out that Mary-- his betrothed-- was pregnant he decided to "put her away (divorce her) privily" because he was "not willing to make her a publick example." Being betrothed was a covenant relationship and even though Mary and Joseph did not yet live together as husband and wife, her getting pregnant was the equivalent of adultery. In Leviticus 20: 10 it says,
"And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Justice under the Mosaic law demanded that Mary be killed, but Joseph was merciful. Which is astounding considering that he must have felt all the feelings of someone whose husband or wife was unfaithful to them-- anger, betrayal, hurt, confusion, and a loss of his dreams for the future. It is amazing to me that in the face of such emotions he didn't let vengeance or anger rule him, but chose the higher road of understanding and forgiveness. He showed mercy and kindness to Mary, even when he was hurt and upset.
Women would never be abandoned
It is powerful to me that after Joseph's visit from the angel, telling him that Mary's child was indeed the Son of God, that he had the courage to take her as his wife. In the eyes of his family and his community his actions would have looked an awful lot like a confession that HE was the one who had gotten Mary pregnant. In fact, later in Jesus's life the Pharisees slung these words at him, "We be not born of fornication." (John 8:41) These words indicate that many people probably believed that Joseph and Mary had fornicated (had sex before marriage), which was far from the truth. Yet, it is amazing to me that Joseph was willing to take the blame for something he didn't do, and carry that label and accusation for the rest of his life. He didn't let Mary carry her burden alone, he carried it with her.
Women's bodies would be respected
"And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son." (Matt. 1:25)
It is just one sentence but I think it speak volumes about Joseph. We don't know how far along Mary was when they were married but it seems that they were living together as husband and wife when Mary delivered Jesus. Yet, even though they were a married couple Joseph "knew her not", meaning he wasn't sexually intimate with her, until after her son was born. I don't want to get into a debate about whether or not you should have sex when you are pregnant, but I do want to point out that this simple statement shows us that Joseph had respect for Mary's body. He didn't try to force himself on her or try to satisfy his own lusts. He was willing to wait, to abstain (even in marriage) and to let Mary be queen of her own body. And that is impressive.
All children would have fathers
A few days ago I read a post about the significance of swaddling bands, and was really impressed by the symbolism those bands had. One of the symbols of swaddling bands was that the baby was legitimate, and that the father claimed the child as his own. Jesus wearing swaddling bands means that Joseph claimed him as his son. Like I mentioned before this meant that Joseph likely took the blame for something he didn't do (getting Mary pregnant) but it also meant that Jesus would not have to grow up with stigma of being an illegitimate child. He would have been raised by a father who wanted him, stood by him, and was there to support his mother. Joseph, even though he wasn't Jesus's father in the flesh, was the type of father that every child deserves to have.
Women and children would be protected from danger
After the visit of wise men Joseph again received a visit from an angel telling him that Jesus was not safe and that he should take him to Egypt. Even though this would not have been an easy trip to make Joseph didn't seem to have hesitated at all. He quickly prepared for the journey (which could have been financed by the gifts the wise men brought?) and fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He would have had to leave behind what ever carpentry practice he had built up, any home he had started to construct, as well as his friends and his family. Yet, he was willing to make sacrifices to protect his family and he wasn't afraid to follow commandments without completely understanding why. His courage and faith ensured that Jesus survived, and they were spared the horror that swept through Judea when Herod had all the babies under two murdered.
Families would be guided by the spirit
After being in Egypt for awhile Joseph again had a dream in which he was told that it was safe to return home to Judea. Yet, as he was returning to Israel he heard that Herod's son was now ruling in his stead and was afraid to return to Bethlehem. As they were traveling he also had a dream that warned him not to go back to Judea but to go to Galilee. Joseph and Mary ended up moving back to Nazareth (where they were both from) and in doing so fulfilled a prophecy that said the Messiah would "be called a Nazarene." (Matt. 2:23) Joseph was a man who was able to receive revelation, for his family and for himself, and trusted the guidance he received from the spirit.
Marriages would be partnerships
The last time we hear of Joseph is in Luke 2: 42- 52 when Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that "Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew it not... but when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him." Throughout the whole story the plural "they" is used. It is just one word, but I love it because it gives us an example of how Mary and Joseph worked together in their marriage and their parenthood. Even though we don't have any examples of Joseph changing diapers or getting up with the baby during the night, I think this story gives us an idea of how they may have worked together to raise and take care of their family. Due to their culture and time period they may not have been "equal" partners as we might think of a married couples today being, but I do think they were unified and both righteously striving towards the same goals.
As I think about the type of man the Joseph was I can see why God chose him to be the earthly father of Jesus. Many of the things that Jesus taught about women, and that He demonstrate throughout his life, were also demonstrated by Joseph in his love and concern for Mary. That is a powerful example.
So I hope as you tell the Nativity story this Christmas that you won't rush over Joseph's part. His love, compassion, mercy and wisdom made Mary and Jesus's divine work possible. Without him there wouldn't have been a Nativity story to tell, and well, if all men were like him... the world would be a much better place.