Traditionally, depictions of the Christmas story focus on the person of Mary, and with good reason. Mary’s humble acceptance of God’s sovereign plan and her willingness to carry inside her the child that would save the world is an inspiring story for all followers of Christ. Her example is, rightly, revered throughout the Christian world. Beyond that, she is the only of Jesus’ earthly parents to be biologically related to Him. Joseph was Jesus’ step-father, but Mary was His flesh-and-blood mother.
It is, then, something of a surprise that Matthew focuses on Joseph instead of Mary. Unlike Luke, who carefully documents not only Mary’s encounter with the angel, but also the saga of the birth of John the Baptist by Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, Matthew doesn’t mention what was told to Mary at all. Instead, his account begins with Joseph finding out that his fiance is pregnant.
There are two likely reasons for this. The first - mentioned in yesterday’s introduction - is that there is great prophetic significance to Jesus being the “Messiah, son of Joseph.” Joseph’s namesake - the patriarch sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, only to rescue them in their hour of need - was a symbol of gracious forgiveness in the midst of suffering. Little surprise that Jewish theologians connected Isaiah’s description of a suffering savior whose “stripes” would “heal” (Isa. 53:5) the sins of the world to this story by calling Him the “son of Joseph.”
Therefore it is important to Matthew to show that Jesus is truly Joseph’s son - to show the moment that Joseph “chooses” - just as truly as Mary - to play the role of Jesus’ earthly father and adopt Him.
Beside this deeper, theological reason, Matthew likely includes Joseph’s story because it - like Mary’s - is a superb example of someone being called to remarkable service and humbly accepting God’s will. Like Mary, Joseph no doubt endured scorn and ridicule because of Mary’s inexplicable pregnancy. Many likely suspected that he had sinned with his soon-to-be wife; others whispered even more scandalous possibilities. Putting aside the harm to his reputation, accepting this child into his life drastically altered the course of Joseph’s life. He was expecting a quiet existence plying his trade as a carpenter in the sleepy town of Nazareth. Instead, he would soon be a fugitive fleeing death at the hands of Herod, moving to Egypt, and returning as the father of a divinely-appointed, miracle-working revolutionary-in-training. Being the earthly father of the Messiah was a recipe for sleepless nights.
You might think that these sound like mere inconveniences compared with the blessing of being part of the redemption of the world (Joseph, for his part, would probably agree). But before we dismiss Joseph’s example as unremarkable, consider how often we are unwilling to make much smaller sacrifices in order to do God’s will. How often do we balk at parting with tiny amounts of money despite God’s commandment to be generous? How often do we begrudge the hour of time we spend in worship, or the minutes we spend reading His word or in prayer? How many of us, if God called you to take in someone else’s child and raise him for 18 years as your own would do it?
Joseph was the sort of man who said “yes” to God, not knowing where it would lead, and without regard to the cost. His faith - simple, open and humble - is one we would all do well to follow.