Advent on the Blog: Joseph
Throughout this advent season we’ve been taking a look into the Christmas story through the eyes of the people who saw Jesus first. These stories are excerpts from our book Christmas Hearts, written by Fit & Flourish president and co-founder, Dr. Tim Roehl. Christmas Heartsis based on the story as told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The book will make a great gift for family and friends. It’s available for purchase on Amazon.
Earlier this week you read Mary’s story. A story of an ordinary girl who is able to do the impossible with God’s help. He makes the impossible HIMpossible as He walks with us and helps us.
Today we hear from Joseph, the man God trusted to raise His Son. A carpenter faced with an awesome and terrifying challenge but made it through because he trusted God and stuck by his bride-to-be who was carrying the Messiah.
“The Man God Trusted To Raise His Son”
He walked down the path from his carpenter’s shop to Mary’s house, the sun warm on his face, the breeze carrying the bright sounds of a songbird to his ears. Breathing deeply the fresh air of late spring, he exhaled slowly, smiling up into the sky. Life was good! He was engaged to the most wonderful girl in the world! In just a few months they would be married…he could hardly wait. He had worked hard on the small house they would share as husband and wife. With her woman’s touch, Mary would soon turn it into a home of love and happiness. He smiled to himself again...someday he would have to enlarge the house to accommodate their children. Yes, God was being good to him. The gift of a wife was more than Joseph could have ever dreamed.
It had been three months since he had seen Mary. He was eager to see her face again, hear her voice again, be near her again. She had gone to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was expecting a baby. Elizabeth was well past child-bearing age, but several months ago miraculous news of her pregnancy came from Hebron that surprised and amazed them all. The old couple would have to prepare a nursery! Not long after the news about Elizabeth had come, Mary left rather suddenly. Although Joseph couldn’t seem to place the feeling, he had a sense that something had happened to Mary that had changed her. Still, he was eager to see her again, as soon as possible!
When he got near Mary’s home, her little brothers and sisters ran to greet him on the path, shouting his name, smiling up at him and grabbing his hand. Joseph laughed and threw one of the boys on his strong shoulder as he neared the door. Looking into the house, he saw Mary rise from where she was sitting and come to meet him. There was something different about her! He noticed a glow on her face and a quiet depth in her eyes he had not noticed before...but her voice still carried the familiar ring of joy whenever she said his name.
“Joseph!” She ran to him, eagerly taking him by both hands, looking up into his face, her eyes shining. Joseph fell in love all over again, looking into those beautiful eyes.
For a few minutes they made small talk with Mary’s father and mother--talking of the weather, of how Joseph’s business was coming along...all the common things people talk of with the familiarity of family. Joseph was but a young man, approaching only his twentieth year, but in their culture he was of age to marry and expected to support himself. Being a carpenter was a good trade, one he had learned from his own father, but probably not one that would make him wealthy. Their area was not heavily forested, so good wood was hard to find. People built their homes with little wood, relying instead on stone and clay mortar. Furniture made of wood was often unavailable except for the wealthy. The life of a carpenter was not an easy one, but Joseph had worked hard to become a master craftsman. He had big dreams for his business and family. Mary’s parents knew they were getting a steady, stable young man, more serious than most his age, as a son-in-law. Joseph also had an uncommon sensitivity to spiritual things. He was a man who sought to honor God by his actions more than just his words. They knew Mary could have done much worse than Joseph for a husband. Soon he would be an official part of the family, and that made them glad.
After awhile, at last, Joseph and Mary rose to take a walk so they could talk alone together. Outside the village, they found a peaceful place that looked out across the valley. For a long while, they were quiet, Mary’s head resting on his shoulder. Mary turned to him, looking deep into Joseph’s eyes.
And then she told him.
The words hit harder than if someone had struck him over the head with one of his carpenter’s mallets. At first he was numb, unable to comprehend what they really meant. The words were so unexpected, so seemingly impossible that he was speechless. As the full weight of Mary’s words filtered past his mind and into his heart, it seemed his whole world was crashing down around him.
“Joseph....I’m going to have a baby.”
A baby?! Mary, his beloved, his intended Mary? It couldn’t be? Could it? Not from him, at least. They had remained pure...saving themselves for marriage. Joseph and Mary were betrothed. In their country, to be betrothed was almost being married. The arrangements had been made that they would be husband and wife. They were in the year of preparation before the actual wedding celebration. Although they were engaged, they had not used that as an excuse to become intimate physically before their wedding. They knew it would honor God and make their wedding night one of great happiness. Even though they did not live or sleep together yet, they were legally bound to each other. Only divorce or death could end their relationship. The time for the wedding was so close. Their courtship had been so ideal, so wonderful...and now this.
Her words could only mean one thing...Mary had been unfaithful to him. The ultimate act of betrayal....the one thing he thought could never happen to him.
Joseph suddenly felt weak, his stomach churning. His mind still could not grasp this stunning development. This was the woman he loved. She was the one! He had committed his life and love to her completely...to be faithful to her alone. What was happening?
Mary knelt down in front of him, her eyes filled with tears, her hands resting on his callused carpenter’s hands. “Joseph...it’s not what you think. I haven’t been unfaithful to you. I’m still a virgin...but I’m going to have a baby.”
Joseph looked up at her, his eyes filled with confusion. “Still a virgin? Yet you are going to have a baby? Mary, that’s impossible!”
Mary nodded in agreement and urgency. “Yes, it is impossible....but not with God, Joseph. Nothing is impossible with God. God sent an angel to me...and the baby within me is the One He promised He would send us. Joseph, the son I will bear is the Son of God. God has chosen me to be the mother of the Messiah.” Her faced glowed. In hushed, almost reverent tones she told him of the incredible visit of Gabriel. She had left shortly after that to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth. She found that not only was she carrying a Child conceived miraculously, but also Elizabeth, well past the age to bear children, was expecting a baby! After that vital time with Elizabeth, she returned now, over three months, later with the news of her pregnancy.
Joseph had never, ever known Mary to be dishonest with him before...but this was so improbable that it was nearly unbelievable. She must have met someone while she was visiting Elizabeth.
She couldn’t have willingly....
...someone must have forced her to...
This couldn’t be! They loved each other. They had kept themselves pure, although the temptation to give in to their passions had been strong at times. Now Mary was asking him to believe a story like this...
He listened to her, his mind too numb to even ask questions. He wanted to, but he couldn’t get the words to come out of his mouth. They died on his lips, even as he felt his dreams dying in his heart. He sat there in stunned silence, looking at her with eyes blurred with tears of pain and bewilderment. The enormity of the dilemma completely overwhelmed him. Finally, he walked her back to her house and then stumbled down the path to his.
He found himself standing in a daze in front of his house. His house....it was to have been their home. Joseph had worked so hard preparing this simple home for them to share as husband and wife. This was where they were to live together-- to share their dreams, their hardships, their routines, their meals and their bed together.
All those wonderful dreams had become a nightmare. In their small village of Nazareth there would be gossip...scandal...the embarrassment of sly looks and snide comments from people as he walked by...the stigma of being a man whose wife-to-be had been unfaithful to him. His heart felt like a board suddenly snapped in pieces, with the jagged splinters stabbing him with pain like he had never felt before. Wood splinters got under the skin. These splinters of betrayal had punctured his very soul.
His stomach still felt like he was going to vomit. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists, not knowing what to do with them. Finally, he threw himself down on his bed and wept the deep, heaving, pain-filled sobs of a man whose dreams have ended before they ever really began.
After a long time, he could weep no more. His head ached, his eyes hurt. He sat on the edge of his bed, holding his head in his hands. What now? Think, he said to himself, you’ve got to think.
What could he do? Desperately he cried out....oh God, where are You now? What could the Lord have to say that could help him now? Joseph had always sought to live in line with God’s laws. His heart was fully devoted to the Lord, but when the heart is crushed sometimes it is hard to hear from God. From deep within an anguished heart, his pleading groans sought something...anything from the Almighty to help him know what to do. He was facing a situation no man had ever faced.
His mind recalled what the Law said about the sin of adultery. The options were few...he could publicly expose her guilt and have her put to death by stoning. Joseph shuddered at the thought of his Mary broken and bloody, dead beneath a hailstorm of sharp rocks. No...even if Mary was guilty of adultery, he could never bring himself to allow that to happen to her.
What else? He could divorce her...all he needed to do was write up the divorce document and hand it to her in the presence of two witnesses. Their relationship would be over, but Mary’s life would be spared.
What should he do? Joseph wanted to do what God wanted. He knew God was a God of mercy, not only of judgment. What would God want him to do, even in the face of such betrayal? He thought of the stories of others who had been betrayed. Hosea the prophet’s wife had borne him children, then left him for the life of a prostitute. God led Hosea to forgive his unfaithful wife and even restored their marriage. In the scroll of Isaiah even God Himself compared His relationship with Israel to a husband betrayed by an unfaithful wife. He was the Faithful Husband heartbroken, longing for His relationship with His beloved to be restored.
For a long time Joseph stared into space...thinking...praying. It was a moment on which the course of his life hung like a hinge. What he would choose would open doors affecting not only his life but Mary’s...and the baby’s. As he pondered, his mind came to a point of understanding and his heart to a point of decision. He would do the right thing. He would show Mary mercy. Perhaps...perhaps God would bring him another wife... someday.
Exhausted by the strain of the day and the decision, he fell into turbulent sleep.
Some time later, in the midst of his restless slumber, he was suddenly aware of a presence in his room. The room glowed with light unlike any he’d ever seen. Joseph was conscious of a supernatural there with him.
What was it? An angel? Angel?! Could it really be?! It was just as Mary had described happening to her! God had sent him a messenger as He had to Mary! It was a dream...but it was also an experience of supernatural reality for Joseph.
The messenger spoke, his voice deep yet reassuring. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The baby she is carrying is indeed from God. You are to give Him the name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
With that, the messenger was gone. The room returned to normal again.
Joseph woke instantly, looking around, his eyes wide with wonder. So it was true! It was just as Mary had said! God was trusting his beloved Mary to give birth to the Son of God...and God was trusting him to be the man who would raise His Son. Him. Joseph of Nazareth! Slowly he let it all sink in...and the reassuring peace of God filled his heart. His dreams were not destroyed after all....no, God was fulfilling them beyond his farthest expectations! As he sat in silent wonder, another passage from the scroll of Isaiah came to his heart:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son
and will call him Immanuel...
For to us a Child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government shall be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.”
It was really happening! God was going to send His Son, the Messiah to reside with His people, to redeem them and to ultimately reign over all creation. Joseph was overwhelmed again, this time with awe instead of anguish. He knelt at the side of his bed, his face lifted to heaven, and the tears that streamed down his face now were the tears of a joy-filled man. Out of the overflow of a heart overcome with worship and wonder, he poured out praise to such an Awesome, Faithful God. As he lifted his rough carpenter’s hands in worship, he felt as though the Almighty God took hold of his hands in reassurance. God Himself would take Joseph by the hand and lead him into the days ahead.
The hearts of two fathers, the Eternal Heavenly Father and the earthly humble father, communed as one.
It was all he could do to wait until the first light of morning to run all the way to Mary’s house, take her in his arms and kiss her right there in front of her family and declare his love for her forever. Their tears mingled as he told her of his amazing visit from God’s messenger. They traded stories about their supernatural visits, nodding and laughing in the sheer wonder of God’s incredible plan for their lives. His plan was greater than they could have ever imagined! Two lives whose expectations only went to the edges of Nazareth would now have an influence that would extend to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. Only God...only God could arrange something so incredible, and they were glad He was allowing them to live it together. Together they would face their future as husband and wife. Together they would raise the One who would change the course of eternity for all humanity. Together they would face the challenges of what people would say about them with God’s guiding wisdom and love.
As he walked back to his carpenter’s shop, there was something different about Joseph. There always is when God sovereignly puts His hand on an ordinary life and gives it supernatural purpose. His eyes were bright, his heart clear, his shoulders square, his steps sure. This simple carpenter from Nazareth, this man who sought with all his heart to live to honor God, was given an honor by God unlike any other man in all of history.
This was the man God trusted to raise His Son.