The Unsung Hero of the Nativity

Hawkgrrrl Asides, Charity, children, christ, christianity, church, curiosity, doubt, faith, feminism, Happiness, history, Humor, Jesus, joseph, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, obedience, parables, questioning, religion, thought, women 13 Comments

As I was setting up our nativity scene this year, I noticed the wisdom and cultural/racial diversity of the Magi, the docile farm animals (not minding the afterbirth on their food despite being herbivores), the grace and adoration of the Madonna with outstretched arms (and nary a stretch mark) toward the cooing babe, the aloof Boticelli-like angel who frankly doesn’t look like she’s that into it, and then I noticed Joseph’s face, searching vainly for some family resemblance as he peers down at Baby Jesus.  Often pushed aside in favor of the other players, Joseph is clearly the unsung hero of the Nativity.

Why is Joseph the unsung hero of this story?  While he is not a principle player (the mother & child take those roles), he is also not one of the quirky supporting cast members to this scene.  Among all the players, he is the one person who had the most power to create a very different narrative to this story.  Consider the following from Matthew:

18  Now the bbirth of Jesus Christ was con this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  (“Before they came together” could mean marriage or consummation, or in other words, Joseph knew he wasn’t the father.  “She was found” also makes it sound as though he discovered it because it was evident rather than through a spontaneous confession.)

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick aexample, was bminded to cput her away privily.  (IOW, he wasn’t buying this “found with child of the HG” story, but he was also a mensch.  He could have been outraged, humiliated, veangeful, etc.  There are frankly some current examples of women in the middle east in similar situations that end quite differently.)

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a adream, saying, Joseph, thou son of bDavid, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the cHoly Ghost.  (Now I’ve had some pretty cool dreams, but this is a rather important matter to rely on a dream.  He didn’t even have a visitation, just a dream.  Surely he had plenty of times he had to doubt this.)

21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his aname bJESUS: for he shall csave his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 aBehold, a bvirgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his cname dEmmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.  (So, Joseph is basically marrying into a situation in which he, the man in a male-dominated society, has to play the role of father to a kid that isn’t his and he gets no say in naming the kid and even his say in how the kid will be raised is questionable.  Plus, a bunch of pressure because of who the kid’s Father is.  This took a lot of faith and humility.)
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his awife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her afirstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.  (So, a delayed honeymoon as well–more inconvenience to Joseph–just to make it totally clear who the Father was.)
So, this narrative could have ended completely differently.  Joseph could have at least disgraced Mary and made it so she would have had no viable marriage options and had to raise Jesus on her own.  And he really had every reason to do so.  I have to wonder if he had doubts throughout his life about 1) his wife’s honesty, 2) his son’s parentage, and 3) his own sanity for agreeing to this arrangement.  We usually say what an honor it was to be the step-father to the Lord, but there’s an often-overlooked downside, too.  What do you think?

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Comments 13

  1. I could easily see Joseph as the “Unsung Hero of Christ’s Upbringing,” or the “Unsung Hero of the Life of the Savior.” I think we see Christ as perfect and therefore capable of taking care of Himself, thus rendering his Earthly parents (or step-parent) unnecessary. I don’t see it this way. Joseph could have been some kind of an Elias… perhaps not preparing the way for Christ the way that John the Baptist did, but he certainly set the stage for him. He had a stable career that would allow Christ to not “want” for anything, he certainly protected the infant, raised him, fed him, etc.

  2. I like your analysis, and in most respects I agree that it could have been difficult. On the other hand, dreams were more heavily counted then than now, and it’s pretty obvious that both Joseph and Mary belonged to a group of traditionalists. They, at the very least, seemed to have some pretty strong feelings about personal piety that go against what seemed to have been the norm. That’s my take on it anyway, but I don’t have any real source for it.

  3. Valoel – hilarious. OK, apparently there is a song about him, although I’ve never heard it. So, if a tree falls in the forest . . . (then again, it could be popular in Catholicism, and that’s a pretty big forest!)

  4. I often wish that we had more information about Joseph. I understand why we don’t, but I still wish we did.

    I really admire the glimpses of him we get in the few verses that mention him. Apparently, he died prior to Jesus’ death, but we don’t have any details whatsoever – and it makes me wonder how he lived and died.

    It reminds me of the “laying down his life for his friends” concept – not “dying” but rather, in this case, “living in anonymity”. That reminds me of my own father, so I am drawn to him emotionally.

    I want to meet him in the hereafter and hear about his life straight from him – especially to see if he ever really “got it” when it came to Jesus.

  5. St. Joseph is a HUGELY popular figure among Eastern, Roman, and Anglo Catholics. He is the patron of workers among other things. Very difficult to travel in Western Europe or Latin American and avoid places named after him.

  6. You never sung “When Joseph Went to Bethlehem” in Primary?

    In fact my ward’s Christmas presentation is including a hymn about Joseph.

  7. Hawkgrrrl, can you let me know how to publish a subject as I am new at this but have a lot to write about. I will really appreciate it.

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    Gwennaelle – I tend to agree. When there’s not much being said, maybe that’s because there’s nothing nice to say, n’est-ce pas?

  9. I agree that we often overlook Joseph – although he gets the occasional mention.

    Anyway, he apparently gave Jesus the kind of upbringing that helped him “increase in wisdom and stature, and favour with God and man”. Jesus had to learn to come to terms with mortality, IMO.

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