Putting aside the historical validity of the birth narrative from Matthew and Luke. One of the things that I have always wondered about is Joseph’s story. I really enjoyed the one Christmas song from Michael Card “Joseph’s Song” for many years. I’ve even written monologue pieces that featured this song. It is also a song that played over and over again the first few days after the birth of my son. I remember 20 months ago when I was still a youth minister, when I had the greatest moment of my life. I think it was a lot like that for Joseph, whether or not that story is narrative or fact.
20 months ago my wife’s water broke 3 weeks before the due date. This was both startling and exciting. Of course, it was 12 hours before the actual birth, and that is a whole story I’ll let my wife tell. But the one thing I will remember most vividly is that moment the doctor placed my son on my wife’s chest. He lay there so tiny and so perfect. I started sobbing uncontrollably. We had gone through so much just to have a child. Here he was finally. My sobs began to hurt my chest they came so freely. It was the best moment of my life. That tiny human being made everything in the world so much better and scarier all at the same time.
A few days later my mother came out to help in the first few days. I had a melt down with her, I didn’t know how I could be a father. I was so terrified that I was going to break him. I was terrified I’d never be able to support my family in the way they needed. I was simply terrified. How could I be a father? I still felt like a child myself, even at 32 when we had him. Every day since that moment, I’ve had my ups and downs. Moments where I felt like I just couldn’t do it any longer. Moments where I’m so overwhelmed with joy at being a dad. Moments when the only good thing in the world is that smile my son gives me at the end of the day when I pick him up from daycare. It’s hard to describe what this love is in words. It’s hard to say as a parent how immensely you feel toward your children. I can imagine my mother’s heart breaking a bit when I melted down with her. I can imagine she also remembered breaking down when she had my sister, me, or my brother.
I can imagine Joseph breaking down and sobbing at the birth of Jesus. I can imagine the intense joy he felt with each new thing Jesus learned. I can imagine him breaking down with Mary, not knowing how he could possibly be father to this child. I can imagine the intense fear that he felt when the order came from Herod to kill all the male children in his area. The traveling to an unknown land as a refugee, hiding out in fear for his son’s life. Trying to protect his family. Jesus possibly learning at the library of Alexandria. Joseph’s intense joy at seeing his son’s smile as he came to collect him from study. Returning home when it was safe, as an immigrant in his own home land. He faded into relative obscurity and only remembered for his small part before the birth of Jesus. He probably didn’t mind that part, but what about his history. Was he a good father to Jesus? Did he and Mary have a good relationship? What did their family life look like? Was he part of the Jewish rebellion against Rome? What were his political views? Did he and Jesus get into political spats at Yom Kippur? Were passover feasts awkward and strained sometimes because Jesus said something that Joseph misunderstood?
Of all of the things that are going on in our world this is one that probably is not all that important in the grand scheme of things, but to me it matters. I’ve noticed a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed before, but it is there. There is a trend of viewing fathers as idiots, muscle-bound jerks, or absent-minded only focused on their own little world people. They are very 2 dimensional and are often comedic relief or antagonists to a larger story. Sure there are other stories out there, but this is the prevalent narrative in the modern discourse that is pop-culture. Maybe I take this more seriously than most because I am a father. Maybe I take it personally, because those are the things I do not want to be. I don’t want to be an ignorant dolt, who only cares about his own issues, and is a jerk to other people. I am more complex than that, but so is everyone else.
I want to imagine that Joseph and Mary were equal partners in the raising of the man Jesus. I know that is probably very much not the truth as the societal constructs of the first century bent toward a misogynistic and oppressive society for women. The truth is we’ll never know what the home life of these two characters was like. I wish to imagine it this way anyway. I would like to think that the parents of this man Jesus taught him important lessons of how to treat people. We see the way Jesus treats all people with love and kindness. That had to come from, at least, some of the parenting he got right? I imagine Joseph spending long nights comforting a crying baby Jesus in another room or outside so that Mary could sleep. I imagine Joseph teaching Jesus his first words and picking him up when his first steps got wobbly. I imagine a loving father in the way that I want to be a loving father. He probably made mistakes, like all fathers do. He wanted so much for his son, though. If he survived, I can imagine the pain he felt watching the crowd chant crucify him. I can imagine the absolute destruction that watching his son be executed like a common criminal in the most humiliating way possible. I can imagine that it was because of his son that he would want to fight Rome. He would want to drive them from his homeland.
It’s because of my son that I resist a lot of the things that are happening in my country now. I stand up and speak out because I want my son to have a better life. I want my child to grow up in a world where he won’t be looked down upon for his heritage. Where he will have more opportunities and every chance to succeed, at least more than I had. I want my child to know that I stood up for those who were being oppressed. I want my son to know that I did what I could when I could to help people. That I used my time, my vote, my money, my art, my voice, and my talents to try to make a difference. I know that we will not always see eye to eye. That will come in time, he’s only 20 months old. I know I’m going to make mistakes, like all fathers do. I want my love to speak for me, though. I want to support my son in whatever he does. Even if he becomes a radical preacher who changes the world forever. It would devastate me to see him go through just some of what Jesus went through.
So reader, whether you are a father or a mother. Whether you are a parent or not a parent at all. What can you take from the story of Joseph? What do you want your children to say of you? What do you want future generations to think about you? Do you want them to look back and see you as a selfish dolt who only cared about their own problems? Or do you want them to look back and see someone who cared for those around them and tried their hardest to ensure that future generations would have every opportunity and advantage that they may not have had? I think a father’s love is evident in that, what a father does to provide and care for those around him. I, at least, want it said of me that I did what I could to show others that they were not alone, and that they mattered. That is what my ministry is now. I may not be in a church. I may not be actually ministering, but I am still a minister. I want my son to know that love. I want him to know that I love people, and that it is important to care for those around you. I want him to be a good person. Even if it is in-spite of me. So, reader, may you know that you are not alone, and that you matter, at least to this father.