Mary receives most of the attention as the mother, but Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth of Jesus. Of course, the virgin birth was a miracle, but how would most men have responded to the situation in which Joseph found himself?
Mary and Joseph were Jews following Jewish complex and time-consuming protocol for marriage. In the presence of two witnesses, the groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride accompanied by a gift. The couple was then legally married, and to void the marriage required a divorce. However, the couple did not live together for a year as the bride continued living in her father’s house. When the year ended, the groom would take the bride to his family home, and the couple would live together as husband and wife. A rabbi told me the purpose of this procedure was to make sure the woman was not pregnant. Matthew 25:1-6 describes this wedding custom.
The problem, in this case, is that Mary fails the test. She was showing a baby bump and “found to be with child.” As a result, Jesus would be considered an illegitimate child, and that stigma would be used against him. In John 8:39-41, we see the enemies of Jesus protesting that they were not illegitimate. Joseph is between a rock and a hard place. He loves Mary, but Jewish law urges him to divorce her. Furthermore, the public disclosure of this situation could mean that she could be stoned.
At this point, Joseph has a dream (Matthew 1:20-25) in which an angel tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Afraid of what? Afraid of breaking the Jewish law. I think most men would have assumed it was something they ate and would not have been willing to subject themselves to the ridicule and abuse that would undoubtedly come from the situation. Interestingly, the angel addresses Joseph as “Joseph, son of David.” This is the only time that title is given to anyone in the New Testament except Jesus himself. Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth of Jesus.
After the birth of Jesus, Joseph has another dream in which an angel tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He immediately does it in the middle of the night (Matthew 2:13-14). This poor carpenter is told to go to a foreign country with no support. (Perhaps this is where the gift of gold from the magi came in handy.) Joseph is a man of incredible faith and courage. He ends up in Nazareth because of another dream and fades into the background as Jesus and Mary take over the historical narrative.
Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth of Jesus because he sets an example for us all. His love for Mary, his obedience to God’s commands and leadership, and his willingness to serve sacrificially are frequently overlooked. He teaches us that we can serve God in many ways. Joseph’s humility, servant attitude, and obedience set a standard for us to follow.
— John N. Clayton © 2021