Note: The piece below was written for Redeemer's annual Advent by Candlelight. It's always a joy to be a part of this wonderful Advent tradition. Enjoy. And a blessed Advent to you all.
Advent is so much more than pre-Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting, an oasis of patience in a dessert of consumption. Advent is a season of hope and expectation in a world of instant gratification. Advent is a season that calls us to focus on Christ who came, who is yet to come, and still comes among us now. In Advent we join the prophets of the OT in waiting. And we join Mary in her waiting too.
But what about Joseph? How did he spend his time during that first advent? We’re not told a whole lot about Joseph in the Gospels. At first this might cause us to wonder off into theological day dreams, or ask mysterious questions we’ll never get answers to, or write amusing stories for Advent celebrations. But as it turns out, this is as it should be.
For one thing, and let’s be honest here, the father isn’t the first person visitors come to see when a new baby is born. People are concerned about how the mother is doing, and rightly so. But most of all, the child is the center of attention. It’s no different for Joseph and Mary. The Gospel writers focus on neither of them very long and when they do it’s always in relation to Jesus. For the joy of the Christmas story is found in another Son of David, the Son born of the Virgin Mary.
But we do know a few things about Joseph. He was a carpenter as his father was before him; and it’s reasonable to conclude that Jesus learned the art of wood-working as well. He lived in Nazareth of Galilee which means he wasn’t exactly clothed like Solomon and he certainly didn’t live in a palace like his ancestor, King David. His name “Joseph” means “God will add”. And this brings us to one final point. For as it turns out, there was a lot God would add to Jesus’ life through Joseph even if he hadn’t given him life.
When he wanted to divorce Mary quietly, he was motivated to do so in order that Mary and Jesus-still-in-the-womb would not die by stoning, which was the legal consequence of adultery when betrothed. When they married early, it was to protect Mary and Jesus’ reputation in their hometown . When they left to go to Bethlehem it was to fulfill his duty as citizen, but also to provide a place for Jesus to be born, thus fulfilling the words of the OT prophets. Joseph’s ancestral name gave Jesus the legal status as an heir of the house of David. And later he even protected Jesus as an infant when they fled to Egypt and came home by another route, thus avoiding Herod’s malice and attempted infanticide. Indeed, Joseph was a true guardian, like his OT namesake.
And while we don’t know a whole lot about Joseph, the important details we do know point us right back to Jesus. For everything Joseph did was for Jesus: the giving of His name. His legal status. Joseph’s guardianship and merciful care. No doubt Joseph waited for many things in his life too. And like all fathers, those long months were some of the most thought-provoking days and weeks, filled with anticipation of Jesus’ advent.
So tonight we take a brief look at a diary of an advent father. An earthly father chosen by His heavenly Father to tend, guard, and raise up the very Son of God in human flesh – and dad’s thought they have it hard now! Talk about pressure.
But first, a disclaimer. Almost all of this is sanctified speculation. Granted, many of the historical details are drawn from reputable historians, including the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. This is purely a literary device. And, Lord willing, this little piece will do the same thing for you that Joseph does for all of us, namely, point you to Jesus during this Advent season.
1. Nazareth - 6 B.C.: Went to the well today. Water running low. Too much sawdust in the workshop. Met another member of the tribe of Judah there, a young lady, no doubt a distant relative. But there was something about her. What was her name again? Ah, yes, Mary (Miriam in the Greek). Well, Nazareth is a small town. We’re bound to meet again. That reminds me… Jacob met his wife Rachel at a well.
2. Nazareth - 6 B.C.: Talked to father and mother today. They were happy to talk with Mary’s parents about betrothal and marriage. She’s from a humble yet good family. Though she is poor – but really, who isn’t in Nazareth – we have common ancestry, the family tree goes all the way back to the royal line of David. Father says he’ll talk to her parents tomorrow and discuss the details. Can’t forget to have mother set aside some of the finer wine for the cup we share at the betrothal ceremony.
3. Nazareth – 6 B.C.: Can’t write. Dazed. Confused. Furious. What am I going to do now? Must. Chop. Wood.
…Needed that. Cathartic. Calmed down a bit, at least for now. So, Mary’s pregnant. Didn’t see that coming. Obviously the child’s not mine. She said something about an angelic announcement, the Son of the Most High, and the child being born by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know. It all sounds a little too convenient. I just don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to do. I could marry her quickly and hope none of the chirping birds in Nazareth notice – oh, who am I kidding? Can’t hide anything in a small town. There’s always public divorce. But the Torah states that a betrothed woman is to be stoned if found guilty of adultery. I can’t do that. That may be what’s fair under the Law, but that’s not the just or righteous thing to do at least not according to the Psalms: the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. I guess all that’s left is to set aside the marriage contract quietly. Send Mary off somewhere safe to have the baby. Whatever happens, she can’t get hurt. Must protect mother and the child.
4. Nazareth – 6 B.C.: Couldn’t sleep last night. I feel like I’m living in a story right out of Genesis. Strange dreams. Angelic appearances. What’s next? A burning bush? Manna from heaven? “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said. “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Hmm, Mary was right all along. What a fool I was, a real Balaam’s ass. Divorce? Send her packing? What was I thinking?
I know what people will think; but it wasn’t anything I ate. It was real. What that angel told me last night - confirms everything Mary said. “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” It all makes sense now. Gotta run. Have to tell Mary. Don’t care what our family says…or the people of Nazareth. Time to move up that wedding.
5. Nazareth – 5 B.C.: Roman messenger came to town today. Posted an Imperial edict and left rather quickly. Huh, no wonder. Caesar wants a census. A registration of all citizens. I know what that means: more taxes. And more travel. Subjects are ordered to enroll themselves at ancestral home, says the edict. So, it’s off to Bethlehem. Better tell Mary. She’s not going to be happy about a 5-day journey on a donkey.
(Later that evening) Saddlebags are packed. Route mapped out. 80-90 miles by my calculations. Best if we take the southeastern route. Going through Samaria would be quicker…but risky. Father says the Plains of Esdraelon are warmer this time of year. Mary will appreciate that. Then we’ll head south along the Jordan River as far as Jericho and up to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Now to get that stubborn mule ready.
Judean Countryside – 5 B.C.: Last night on the road. Thank the Lord. This ground feels about as good on the back as it does on the feet after 4 days. And that donkey is really getting on my nerves. Tomorrow we’ll reach Bethlehem by nightfall. Hope to find accommodations. Mary is great with child. He’s coming soon. All the signs are here. And just this morning, Mary recited the Scriptures she had heard in Synagogue.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
6. Bethlehem – 5 B.C.: Made it to Bethlehem. Finally. The inn was full. But thankfully a kind innkeeper pointed us to a grotto out behind the inn. It’s no palace. Rather cave-like. But it’s shelter. And plenty of feed for that donkey – ah, the sounds of silence…
...Wait, what was that noise? That was no donkey…
What a joyous night. Joy beyond all telling! So much to say. So little time. Must write quickly. Visitors coming down the road. Mary gave birth. It’s a boy! She wrapped him in cloths and laid him in the feeding trough. But this is no ordinary Son – that much I know for sure. Too many coincidences. Mary’s account. The Dream. The Angel. The prophets. Could it be that here, in Bethlehem, in the House of Bread – the birthplace of David, the place where Samuel anointed King David – that the Word of the Lord is coming to pass? It all sounds too good to be true…
…Talk about strange visitors. Shepherds. Odd folk, but good and honest. Don’t have their tunics in a bunch like those city folk. They were out tending the sheep for the sacrifices in Jerusalem. And then there was a great commotion. An awful lot of exuberant chatter. More angels – a host of them. They heard singing and praising God. Signs and mangers. Messiah. Savior. Peace on earth and Glory to God. And then they hurried here. Had to tell us all about it. Had to see the Child. They left glorifying and praising God. Mary is holding the child, pondering and treasuring these things in her heart. And I can’t help but feeling a bit like a shepherd now too.
7. Jerusalem – 5 B.C.: It’s been 8 days since that sublime night. Went to Jerusalem today. Up to the temple. He was circumcised. The sign of the covenant, the Lord’s promise. Today the Law is fulfilled. And today…he was given the name Jesus, just as the angel had instructed. Jesus, the Lord (Yahweh) saves. Just like Joshua. That’s what the angel said, “Name him Jesus; for he will save his people from their sins.”