Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until after she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
We don’t reflect on the story of Joseph and his dreams from God very often in church or Sunday school, it seems. Mary gets most of the attention, and rightly so, because she was an extraordinary young woman in her walk of faith with God. Joseph was also righteous and faithful in his own journey and he expressed his faith in action throughout the first few chapters of Matthew.
The book of Matthew gives us five dreams in the first two chapters. Four of these dreams, are dreams of divine revelation, to Joseph. Joseph had a dream where the Angel of the Lord told him to not be afraid to take Mary home as his wife. Joseph was also warned in a dream to take the baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt and after the death of Herod to go back to Israel. The Angel of the Lord also warned Joseph to settle in the district of Galilee, in a town called Nazareth.
Throughout Matthew’s story of the birth of Christ, Joseph is the parent to whom the divine will of God is being revealed. Joseph is following God’s direction to protect his family and it seems that he was able to fulfill his duties as a husband and a father.
Will Willimon wrote an article in Christian Century that helps us to come to terms with the confusion and pain of Joseph’s situation. “Mary may have been blessed among women, but righteous Joseph was embarrassed among men. Few painters tried their hands at Matthew’s annunciation: Joseph bolting upright in bed, in a cold sweat after the nightmare of being told that his fiancée is pregnant, and not by him, and that he should marry her anyway.”
The book of Matthew gives us details concerning the birth of Christ that are different from the birth story in Luke. For Matthew, Joseph is the parent who is the key figure in the birth narrative. After Jesus’ birth, the gospel writer immediately takes us to Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his ministry as an adult. Joseph vanishes from the scene, it seems.
We know nothing of Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth, and also nothing about Joseph, who is not mentioned again until the hometown people of Nazareth call Jesus the “son of the carpenter” (Mt 13:54-55). Mary is mentioned by name and the names of our Lord’s brothers are listed in this same passage. Matthew quotes the people referring to Joseph as the “carpenter”; they don’t even call him by name. So why did Joseph disappear from the picture?
The passage from Matthew 13, when Jesus preached in his hometown, may provide us with some insight as to why Joseph had to “fade away”. The people of Nazareth, who were very aware of his normal human childhood, kept referring to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son”. Remember that when Jesus was baptized, the voice of God from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It is possible that having the earthly father Joseph around would only lead to doubt and confusion for people to envision Jesus as the Son of God. So for whatever reason, Joseph had to fade away, much like John the Baptist did when Jesus began his public ministry.
I don’t think that Joseph gets enough credit for behaving with courage and integrity. God spoke to Joseph through his dreams and I believe that Joseph woke up immediately from his dreams and knew with certainty that this was God’s will for his life. Joseph may or may not have known how much time he would spend with Jesus as a father but I believe that he made every moment count. Joseph obeyed God’s instructions and heeded the warnings sent from God. And I believe that Joseph was a good father to our Lord. Joseph, who interestingly never spoke throughout the text, sets an example for all of us fathers. He protected his family and he believed in and followed the will of God in his own life. May God grant us fathers today the mercy, grace and courage to do the same.