I wonder what it would have been like to have been there THAT day in Bethlehem, knee deep in straw and cow pucks, when Jesus was born.
Have you ever wondered that? Have you wondered what it would have been like to be a shepherd, out there in the dark, tending the flock, when angels appears out of nowhere, the glory of the Lord blasts you in the face, and you feel you’ll pass out with fear?
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be the three wise men, those astrologers who followed a distant star convinced it was leading them to some king’s birth, then stumbling upon a stable instead of a castle?
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be Mary, visited by an angel, chosen by God, getting pregnant without the requisite physical act, enduring her neighbours’ scornful taunts, before giving birth to God’s own Son who would save people from their sins?
The person I most wonder about is Joseph. I wonder what it would have been like to be him that day when Jesus was born. And part of the reason I wonder about Joseph is because we know so little about him.
Joseph appears at Jesus’ birth, then there’s the story about the holy family 12 years later when a precocious Jesus runs away to the temple. That’s it. That’s all we have of Joseph. We don’t know if Joseph died of old age or died too young, we don’t know how many children he and Mary had; nor do we know what kind of marriage he and Mary had, we don’t know what happened to Joseph after he finds Jesus in the temple arguing with theology professors. In fact, Joseph doesn’t get any lines in this story. He’s the strong, silent type. He doesn’t say anything.
In our Lutheran Book of Worship (or the “Green Book”), in all the Advent and Christmas hymns, Jesus is mentioned 309 times. The angels are mentioned 28 times. Mary 32 times. The shepherds, 21 times. But Joseph? Nowhere. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
I don’t know about you but I find that bizarre. But think of the Christmas pageants that churches put on every year. Joseph usually stands in the background, behind the manger, almost out of sight. Radiant beams shine from Mary’s holy face, the shepherds bow on bended knee, the wise men parade to the manger bearing gifts befitting a Messiah-king. But Joseph? Joseph just stands there like a lump, leaning against his staff, trying to stay out of the way.
I should know. I played Joseph one year in the Christmas pageant growing up. When I was asked I thought it was a tremendous honour. But then I was told that my only job was to walk the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mary down the middle aisle, sit her down, and then get out of the way so not to block the real action. I didn’t even have to look holy because no one was looking at me. Joseph is scenery. A bit player. The piece to finish the perfect family picture.
That’s why I wonder so much about Joseph. He’s a mystery. I wonder what kind of dad he was. What kind of fatherly advice he gave Jesus. If he helped Jesus with his homework. If he arm wrestled with Jesus, threw a ball around, fought with Jesus about curfew, or embarrassed Jesus when he brought girls home.
And I wonder if, at the stable at Bethlehem, as his wife was giving birth to a baby that wasn’t his; I wonder if he…(the whole thing here)