Many of us remember news broadcaster Paul Harvey, who had a series he called “The Rest of the Story.” He would tell us things related to a current news story that we might not be aware of, but which were significant to the story. I suggest that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ, is “the rest of the story” in this season as we look at Joseph’s role in Christmas.
Joseph was a Jew, as was Mary (Matthew 1:1-17). In the Jewish system, the marriage relationship was complex. The groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride of his intent to marry her. This promise involved a gift, it was made in the presence of two witnesses, and it could not be revoked without a formal divorce. The groom and bride would not have relations or live together for a year as the bride stayed with her parents. At the end of the year, the groom would come and take the bride to his family home and the marriage would be consummated. Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly to prove that the bride was not pregnant and that her claim to be a virgin was true. If it were established that the bride was not a virgin, she would be stoned to death by the men in the town according to Deuteronomy 22:20-21.
In Joseph’s case, it seemed clear that Mary was not a virgin because she was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). This meant that she could be stoned to death for violating the Jewish law. We see this in John 8:3-5. When the lawyers and Pharisees quoted the law, Jesus told the sinless ones to start throwing stones. They were all afraid to cast the first stone and one-by-one they slipped away.
Joseph loved Mary, and you have to know that his heart was breaking at the situation. He had a dream in which an angel told him that the baby Mary was carrying was a special creation of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-25). For that reason, Joseph should not fear that he was breaking the Jewish law. It would have been easy for Joseph to explain away the dream as a figment of what he wanted, or as a product of stress. Instead, he accepted the dream and went on with the marriage.
Joseph sets the standard of obedience to God by accepting Mary and the situation she brought into his life. He accepted being a father to Jesus and went through all of the painful experiences of a Jewish father (Luke 2:41-48). He did all of that even though he didn’t understand it all (Luke 2:49-50).
Joseph is an unheralded hero of the Christmas story. We need to follow his example of being obedient to the things God calls us to do, no matter what life and circumstances may bring upon us. Joseph’s role in Christmas should be the “rest of the story” for us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017