Weekly Feature



2018-01-17 / Lifestyles

CLERGY COLUMN

Joseph was more than mere onlooker
JIM BARNES
Clarence Center UMC Pastor

Your task: Think about the Nativity scenes you saw during the Christmas season. Was the Joseph figure standing or kneeling? What about the Mary figure?

I checked 12 of them. In seven, Joseph was standing. In all 12, Mary was kneeling. That’s what I expected. I believe that if we examined all the Nativity scenes in Clarence, we would find Joseph standing in a bit more than half and Mary kneeling or sitting in virtually all.

I could ask, “Why?” Instead I ask, “What is the message conveyed — regardless of whether intended or not?”

To me, the message of the standing Joseph risks conveying that he is somewhat of an onlooker or spectator, a forgotten guy or an invisible man.

I think we have for years relegated Joseph to the second tier. He is a useful part of the story, but by seeing him as an onlooker, we may feel that he plays an inferior role to the shepherds and the angels and even the wise men. As a result, we seldom think much about Joseph.

That changed for me this fall.

In September, I was given a copy of the Rev. Adam Hamilton’s most recent book, “Faithful – Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph.” It opened my mind to Joseph’s role and the role of fathers in our faith development.

Clearly a kind and decent man, Joseph, upon learning that Mary was “with child,” decided to not expose her to public disgrace by quietly divorcing her rather than taking her out to be stoned to death. But after the angel assured him that the child was from the Holy Spirit, Joseph instead married her.

And he married her knowing fully well that some might think him a fool for taking on paternal responsibilities for a child he did not biologically father. Joseph, however, accepted the responsibility to help shape the child’s life.

Hamilton contends that a father is expected to love, mentor and teach his child. That was the role Joseph chose to accept.

We know that he fulfilled that role by the few things the Bible tells us about him: He and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to God; he had the dream, and he took the family to Egypt to protect the child from Herod; he and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover; he and Mary went back to find the 12-year-old boy in the temple sitting among the teachers.

Joseph was self-sacrificing, forgiving, merciful and caring, and accepting of what God wanted him to do. Jesus possessed these exact same traits. Do any of us think that is a coincidence?

When we finally think about what he did do, does Joseph continue to appear to be a simple onlooker standing around the stable? Or, do we discover that he played a more active role by providing Jesus, and us, with an example of both loving sacrifice and putting God first, even moving to another country to protect the child?

Do we fathers of today follow Joseph’s example, or do we say, “Your mother will take care of that”?

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