Baby Shark didn’t belong in the manger scene; but there he was, sitting near Joseph.
A couple of days before, my daughter had carefully arranged a beautiful manger scene on top of her piano then sent me a picture of her handiwork. Baby Jesus was surrounded by adoring shepherds, worshipful wise men, cows, sheep and, of course, Mary and Joseph. But as I looked at the picture more closely, I realized there was an additional figure hiding in plain view, one so unexpected that I laughed out loud when I realized out who it was. It was Baby Shark, the cartoon character loved by almost every preschooler, slipped into the manger scene by my youngest granddaughter when her parents weren’t looking.
I’m sure my daughter explained to her daughter that Baby Shark didn’t belong alongside baby Jesus and used the moment as an opportunity to talk about the authentic figures who did belong there. I blogged previously on some of the other non-biblical ways we celebrate Christmas.
Joseph is a vital figure in the Christmas story
But as much as I admire my grand-daughter’s audacity, it isn’t Baby Shark who intrigues me. It’s Joseph, Mary’s husband and the earthly father of Jesus. That enigmatic figure standing beside Mary who’s a vital part of the scene but compared with everyone else is relatively unknown.
What do we really know about Joseph? His name is only mentioned a handful of times in the Bible. Through all the miraculous events he witnesses he never says a word. And after the first little while of Jesus’ life we never hear of him again. You could describe him as a bit player in God’s drama of redemption. You can find out more about Joseph here.
Yet he plays a central role in the nativity account. Without him, Mary has no one to protect her and her son, no one to make a living for their little family, no one to provide a safe place in which Jesus can grow into his destiny. Joseph is the husband and dad who welcomes Jesus into the world and into his own home.
I believe Joseph has something important to teach us today about how to welcome Jesus into our own homes.
We welcome Jesus into our homes at Christmas when we celebrate family
The first time we learn of Joseph is at the conclusion of Jesus’ genealogy in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel:
“…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:16)
Joseph is the link between Jesus and God’s blessing of his family in the past. Joseph’s strategic position in that history reminds us that, while God works in our lives by different means, our extended families are often the most important. To welcome Jesus into our homes is to be mindful of the multi-generational impact that follows.
We welcome Jesus into our homes at Christmas when we practice kindness
The second time Joseph is mentioned is just a couple of verses later when news reaches him that Mary is pregnant.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)
Joseph’s response to Mary’s condition is more than meets the eye. On the one hand, he sets out to do what anyone else in his day would do and break the engagement. Shame was deeply engrained in that ancient culture and an unmarried woman who became pregnant was a scandal. On the other hand, Joseph’s action is radically different from the culture. Even with what must have been a surge of disappointment and maybe even anger over what appears to be Mary’s unfaithfulness, he doesn’t want to shame her.
I believe Joseph’s reticence is explained by simple human kindness. He was a kind man, and his kindness helped make room for Jesus in his home.
We welcome Jesus into our homes at Christmas when we obey God
A third incident in Joseph’s life gives us a final glimpse of his character, maybe the most important of all. Sometime after Jesus’ birth when hostile political forces threaten Joseph’s small family, God sends an angel with a message:
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child, and flee to Egypt…’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)
Joseph doesn’t know all that’s going on with the world or with God’s plan for his family. But down through the years he’s nurtured a faith sensitive enough to God’s voice to know it when he hears it. So, when in the dead of night, that voice speaks clearly and urgently, he doesn’t hesitate. He wakes up his family, throws their meager luggage onto a donkey and sets out for parts unknown.
This man, lost to history and with nowhere near the visibility of so many others in the story of Jesus’s birth, a man no voice, little wealth and no position to speak of, yet manifested the trait God honors most and responds to most readily. Joseph obeyed God. Many of us yearn to welcome Jesus into our homes this Christmas—and Joseph shows us how to do it. First, accept the generational impact Jesus makes on our families. Second, make room for Jesus through the kindness we extend to one another. Third, obey Jesus when he gives us direction for our lives.
Merry Christmas as you welcome Jesus into your home!
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