In this day and age of dysfunctional, fractured, and splintered families we mourn for the stability of the family unit of days gone by. We lament on the number of children who have to adjust to living lives with extra adults who aren’t their biological parents. These children struggle to find security and their places in families where the lines have become blurry.
We as Christians have been given the image of what family should be and that love of God begins in the home. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that while we (or at least I) have the impression that the Bible idea of family is a cohesive unit of father, mother, and children, the family trees in the Bible are actually just as gnarly and twisted as our modern family trees.
The very first family, in fact, is a prime example of a family that splintered quickly. Adam and Eve had to deal with a family fall out when Cain killed his brother Abel. Cain then became estranged from the rest of his family.
Abraham has issues with Sarah and Hagar. Isaac and Rebekah’s marital discord comes from favoring different sons. Jacob’s life was a disaster zone in the family department! Moses had a birth family and an adoptive family.
Then there is David. Slayer of the giant and king of Israel. He had a weakness when it came to women. Rather than just choosing one wife, David chose many. So many that there isn’t an accurate count of them available. Can you envision all of those women living in such close proximity to each other, competing with each other for the king’s attention as well as trying to get his favor for their children?
But God uses all of this for good and for his ultimate purpose. Whether we can understand it or not.
So is it any surprise that with the birth of Jesus there is another blended family? But just as Jesus tempered law with love, God chooses for Jesus’ foster father a man who embraces his role in this unusual family and leaves us with the legacy of a man to look up to and try to emulate in our homes. He gives us one shining example with the very first family in the New Testament to dispel with all of the chaotic family notions of the Old Testament.
Other than he is a descendant of David, we don’t know much about Joseph except that he is a carpenter. The New Testament only mentions him a handful of times, and we know nothing of when or how he dies. But what these few mentions in scripture do tell us is that he is a compassionate man:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
(Matthew 1:18-19, NRSV)
An angel steps in and assures Joseph that Mary’s story is the truth. Joseph still has a choice though. He could easily choose to still quietly dismiss Mary. He is well with in his rights to do so under Jewish law. However, Joseph chooses to take on the responsibility of providing for and protecting the baby Jesus.
Would another descendant of David have been as willing to go along with this plan? Surely Joseph is as favored as Mary in being chosen to be the protector of the Messiah. Like Mary’s life is turned upside down when she agrees to be the Lord’s hand maiden, Joseph’s world will also become crazy. He doesn’t hesitate to leave behind the life that he has built for himself and his family when he is told by an angel to flee to Egypt for the child’s safety. Joseph once again leaves behind whatever security he has been able to find for his small family in Egypt when he is told to return to the land of Israel.
Did Joseph ever grumble about all of the upheavals that come with the advent of the Messiah and Mary into his life? I am sure that he did. He was after all only human. It is his willingness to heed God’s call on his life and go when he is told that makes him stand out.
Being the appointed guardian and protector of the Christ child is his claim to fame, but Joseph’s compassion, empathy, and protection of a child that was not his own should also be remembered. He is a true example of Godly fatherhood in a broken world.