My youngest daughter grabs attention wherever she goes. First, she looks like a pixie with blond, curly hair and a petite body. Second, her personality far exceeds her body size. Most people don't even realize she's small because her personality overwhelms them. If she has an opinion, you'll know it. When she walks in the room, she's the life of the party. She's a natural-born leader and has no trouble getting others to follow where she wants them to go. My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is much more subdued. She doesn't like to be the center of attention in public. She's generally thoughtful and studious. She has a dry sense of humor. She would prefer not to be the center of attention -- ever. She's beautiful, too, but in a quiet, understated way. I wouldn't go so far as to say she's quiet (she chatters like a magpie), but she's only talkative in situations where she feels comfortable. She tends to have lots of acquaintances and a few friends. It's not hard to overlook her in a crowd, but many times she is the one who has the profound answers.
When we look at the story of Jesus' birth, Mary tends to get all of the attention. She's like my youngest. It seems all the important stuff happened to her, which is fitting. She was, after all, the one who was pregnant.
But, there's another equally important person in this account -- Joseph. We don't know much about Joseph. We know he was a carpenter and clearly a man of integrity, as evidenced by his refusal to have Mary publicly humiliated. But Joseph is the quiet person in the account of Jesus' birth. Like my older daughter, he is the one who can be overlooked. But if we overlook Joseph, we miss the opportunity to learn from him.
Joseph obeyed. Imagine how Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant with the son of God. Can you imagine his disbelief? I imagine him sitting there, thinking Mary had not only broken her vows but lost her mind as well. The Bible tells us he didn't believe her because he made plans to end their engagement quietly.
Then an angel shows up in his dreams and tells Joseph to go ahead and marry Mary. The angel confirms what Mary told him. Joseph could have ignored the dream. He was well within his rights to cast Mary off. Yet, when God spoke, Joseph listened. Matthew 1:24 says "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife."
Joseph provided. In Luke 2, we find Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem. What an inconvenient time for a census to take place. Can you imagine traveling on a dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem when you were nine months pregnant? We have an image in our heads of Mary riding on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem, but we don't know that she didn't walk the distance. Can you imagine how scared Joseph was that Mary wouldn't be able to make the journey or that something would happen to her along the way?
They get to Bethlehem and there's no place to stay. It wasn't like today. Joseph couldn't call the local Holiday Inn to get reservations. It was first come, first serve at the inns, and clearly Mary and Joseph did not have relatives in Bethlehem. The only place offered to them was a dirty stable. Joseph could have turned away, thinking that a stable wasn't the best place for them. Imagine how much humility it took to accept lodging for you and your pregnant wife in a stable. But Mary needed shelter, so Joseph set aside his pride to provide what she needed.
Joseph protected. After Jesus was born and all the visitors had come and gone, Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Herod was afraid when he heard that Jesus was to be a king. He thought Jesus had come to take his throne away, so he ordered killed all the boys under the age of 2.
God told Joseph to protect his family by taking them to Egypt. The Bible tells us that Joseph got up in the middle of the night and took his family away. He protected Jesus.
God knew that Jesus would need an earthly mother and father. He chose Joseph, who may not have been the most gregarious guy on the block, to provide for and protect Jesus. Joseph's unquestioning obedience tends to make him the afterthought in most tellings of the Christmas story. But this quiet figure gives us a picture of how God provided for Jesus.
When you're reading the account of the first Christmas with your kids this year, don't just skip over the part about Joseph. Talk with your kids about the important role that he played in Jesus' life. Encourage your kids to look at Joseph as God's provision for Jesus. Help them understand all the things that Joseph did, so Jesus could grow up to do His ministry.
This year, look beyond the attention-grabbing people in the Christmas account to the quiet guy in the background. You'll be surprised at what you can learn from him.