Christmas is all about Jesus who is the Christ/Messiah. Yet in the divine narrative we cannot ignore his mother, Miriam/Mary, who as the Orthodox say is “theotokos” (the birth giver of God, the Son). Further, we cannot remove Joseph from the narrative for his cooperation, even as that of Mary, with the will of the LORD was essential to the success of the whole divine drama and action that led to the Incarnation of the eternal Son/Word of the Father.
The key to an appreciation of Joseph is that he was a just man, who not only sought to obey the Law of Moses but was open to receiving the word of the Lord beyond this Law. Thus he sought to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with his God. In his humility before God he was open to being specifically instructed and led by God. Therefore, after the appearance of an angel of the Lord to him in a dream and his learning from this divine visitor unique facts about Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph the just and devout man “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” And this doing the will of the Lord beyond the law of Moses is a necessary part of the human co-operation with God in the salvation of the world.
The story we all know. Joseph was betrothed to Mary and before they came together in holy matrimony she became pregnant. When Joseph found out he believed his duty according to the Law of Moses (see Deuteronomy 22:13ff.) was to divorce Mary but he determined to do it quietly out of compassion for her. Before he had taken this action, the angel of the Lord spoke to him and told him that Mary’s pregnancy was an unique act of God who had (contrary to the laws of nature) generated a human life in her womb. Mary’s son would be the Messiah of Israel and he, Joseph, had an essential part in this divine action. He was to go ahead and marry Mary and call her son, his son, so that her and his son was truly a descendant of the royal line of David, the king.
In waking from sleep, Joseph also woke from doubts, woke from fear, woke from calculating human possibilities, and with the new dawn of trust and the serenity of faith he began to count on the word and the promises of his God. In fact he woke from an old into a new obedience, responsive to the speaking of God in the arrival of the new covenant, epoch and order.
So Joseph obeyed the Lord his God and made the decision by divine leading and appointment to become the human father of the Messiah, who is Jesus (God’s salvation) and Immanuel (God with us).
Joseph’s role in the history of salvation is unique, as also is in a greater way is that of Mary, his betrothed, who became his wife and then mother of his “adopted” Son. Yet Joseph presents himself to us as a faithful member of the righteous remnant of Israel, whose faithfulness we are to imitate in our own vocation and circumstances.
Thanks be to God for the faithfulness and example of holy Joseph, the righteous and caring man.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)