Classic Post: The Unsung Hero of Christmas

The noble character of Joseph

Merry Christmas!

While we celebrate the incarnation of Christ Jesus, I want to ask you to consider the example of a man who was indispensable to the Christmas story — Joseph the carpenter.

St. Joseph and the Infant Christ (c. 1670-1685) by Baciccio

St. Joseph and the Infant Christ (c. 1670-1685) by Baciccio


Meet Joseph

When we first meet Joseph in the Bible, he is defined in terms of his relationships — as the son of his father, Jacob, and the husband of Mary, the mother of Christ (Matthew 1:16).  From there we learn that Joseph was engaged to Mary, and that Mary was pregnant by God the Holy Spirit.

Joseph’s choices

Although Joseph could have avenged his honor and had Mary stoned to death for her supposed adultery, instead he made up his mind to break their engagement quietly.  But instead, a messenger of God — an angel — appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to proceed with the marriage, because Mary was carrying God’s son.  So Joseph obeyed God.  The only other narrative mentions of Joseph in the Gospel according to Matthew show him moving his family to safety in Egypt, and later to Nazareth to avoid murderous and corrupt rulers.

Family ties

In the Gospel according to Luke, we see Joseph taking his bride to his ancestral home, Bethlehem, because of a census decree.  Jesus was born there just as it had been prophesied.  Bethlehem was significant because Joseph was descended from King David — the greatest king of Israel — and the prophecies regarding the messiah told that he would be the son of David.

Joseph’s greatness

Despite the slight number of scripture verses in which Joseph appears, his impact is tremendous.  Christmas could not have happened without him.  Here are the lessons I take from the life of Joseph:

  • No whining — According to the genealogy of Jesus, Joseph could well have been the rightful heir to the throne of King David.  Instead he was a tradesman –a carpenter.  We do not have any account that suggests Joseph complained about his station in life, or about the circumstances he and his fiancée found themselves in.
  • No drama — When it appeared Mary had been unfaithful to him, his love for her caused him not to want to subject her to disgrace.  His plan was to quietly send her away.
  • Faithful — Joseph is described as a man of noble character.  Although this is not unheard of in the offspring of kings, it is by no means guaranteed.  Note that Joseph willingly accepted the role of Jesus’ earthly father, even though scripture tells us he did not have marital relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus.  That is, he took the responsibility without any immediate gratification.
  • Devout — We see Joseph hearing from God via angels and dreams, so we must conclude that he was seeking God’s wisdom.  Elsewhere we see him presenting the newborn Jesus to be dedicated at the temple, according to the law.  Certainly Joseph revered God to have ingrained such habits of belief and practice.
  • Obedient — When God communicated His will to Joseph, it appears Joseph went straight to it.  Human nature was no different in Joseph’s day than it is in ours, so clearly Joseph must have known he’d have to deal with the whispers and gossip of his neighbors.  Based on the information given us in the Bible, he didn’t let anything deter him.
  • Cool as the other side of the pillow — When evil Herod wanted to kill the newborn King of the Jews, Joseph got instructions to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intent.  And he just did it.  When news reached Joseph that Herod had died, God let him know it was safe to move back to Israel.  Again, he simply moved, although he did avoid Herod’s son by settling in Nazareth. (This decision fulfilled another prophecy regarding Jesus – this is why Jesus was considered a Nazarene.)
About the painting:  This is “Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ” painted by Baciccio — also known as Giovanni Battista Gaulli.  I love this portrayal of Joseph — his expression conveys such love, wonder and reverence.  What genuine nobility!  What a man!

So how about you?  What of Joseph’s example can you put to work in your life?  Add your comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Bring your best manners, please.

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