Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man [was] unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.

Fr Alec
Sunday, December 22, 2013 - 9:30am


The life of a parish priest is full of delightful moments and encounters, very often involving work with children. Just that sort of thing occurred last week when the cubs came to spend some pre-Christmas time in church thinking about the Christmas story.

To get the young folk thinking beyond their preconceived idea of the Nativity, I asked groups to think carefully about one character from the story. Talking to the group that was focussing on Joseph, I tried to help them along with a few questions…

‘How do you think Joseph felt, when he heard that Mary was going to have a baby?’


‘Really? Don’t you think he might have been a bit sad or angry?’


‘When he proposed to her, whose baby do you think he might have wanted her to have?’

‘…his brother’s?’

Though we had to move on before we entered the dangerous territory of ‘Where babies come from’, this did highlight to me how little we think about Joseph’s role in the proceedings. Because our focus is, quite properly, on Mary and her obedience to God’s call, it’s very easy to forget that there was another very important person in the equation.


Even before he was made aware of the full significance of Mary’s pregnancy he acted with immense compassion, integrity, and righteousness. He was within his rights to expose her to public disgrace, and to punish her for her presumed infidelity. But he didn’t. He was merciful.


In art, Joseph is sometimes depicted at the Nativity sitting gloomily apart from Mary, with a wizened old man beside him whispering in his ear. This is a figurative representation of the temptation to reject Mary. The devil is trying to provoke him to jealousy, but Joseph courageously withstands the onslaught. Just as God chose Mary over all other women to be the mother of Jesus, so he chose Joseph to be his father. His protector, his nurturer, his role model.


It is telling, isn’t it, that it is Joseph, who receives the warning to flee to Egypt. This is his responsibility now. To protect and provide for this tiny fragile bundle of grace.


About halfway through my time at Theological college, we received a new principal- Martyn Percy, and I remember very well his talk when he introduced himself to the college. It was memorable because he made a special point of saying that as a child he was adopted, and he went on to talk about the various ways in which this had affected his view on the world, and his gratitude to the mother and father who had chosen him and given him opportunities in life. His parents were a special grace, because their parenthood was not, as it were an accident of birth, but willing choice, wholeheartedly embraced.


He was, he added, in good company, because Jesus was adopted too. And this was a startling thought, because it had occurred to none of us before.


Joseph became Jesus father by adoption. Now the adoptive fatherhood of Joseph is no delicate sleight of hand to save his blushes. It is integral and necessary to the whole course of salvation. You see, if we flick to the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew we find something else often overlooked- a genealogy. A genealogy that traces Jesus lineage right back to David, through his father Joseph. Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah, because of Joseph’s faith, because of his adoption.


In a similar way, we are children of God by adoption. By baptism, God claims us as sons and daughters in Christ, just as Joseph accepted Jesus as his son.


From the very first this was a courageous act. Immediately the obedience and faith of Mary and Joseph put the family in danger, and their plans to return home were thrown into confusion. Joseph received Jesus as a gift from God, and immediately faced up to the consequences as Herod’s jealous rage made itself felt.


As we draw close to Christmas Day, and fix our eyes on the Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we should remember that God does not call us at the convenient moment, nor does he come to us when we are best prepared, nor does he spare our delicate feelings. God gives himself to us completely and calls us to receive him just as we are.