Sunday, December 7, 2008

Joe the Carpenter

Joseph her husband was a righteous man.

                        Matthew 1.19

A Warm Morning in Late March

For the moment, let’s look at the Nativity as a domestic drama about teen pregnancy rather than an epic pageant about the birth of the Redeemer. We have two young people pledged to one another, both still living with their parents. Their families have agreed to—and possibly even arranged—their marriage. All of Nazareth knows about it. On a warm morning in late March, Mary comes by Joseph’s carpenter shop, without her mother, to speak with him. This is highly unusual for her and disconcerting to him. He’s not thrilled that Mary’s been seen walking alone and entering a male-dominated workplace, but her pensive manner troubles him. Joseph sets his plane aside to listen. Reluctantly, Mary describes the prior night’s events, trying her best to explain an inexplicable experience. As she relives the angelic visitation, informing Joseph she’s been divinely chosen to deliver the promised Savior, Mary’s words grow more assured and all signs of worry leave her face. Her story is altogether unbelievable, yet her conviction and confidence make it impossible for Joseph to doubt her.

By the time Mary finishes, reactions normally expected of a young man in Joseph’s position—outrage, anger, and feelings of betrayal—are replaced by far more complex concerns. Mary must be shielded from scandal. How best to do that, though, isn’t clear. If they go through with the marriage, the baby will come too soon and both of their reputations will be ruined. On the other hand, if Joseph deserts Mary—as he’s legally entitled to do—having conceived while engaged to him brands her with adultery, a capital crime. When her pregnancy becomes apparent, she’ll be stoned. Joseph will lose the love of his life. More important, and surely Joseph realizes this, the world will lose the life of its Savior. It’s safe to say no young man who’s dealt with unwed pregnancy ever confronted issues and emotions remotely like those Joseph faced.

Best Supporting Actor

Obviously, Mary is the star of this story. The enormous faith and obedience she brings to it are nothing short of spectacular—so much so, she nearly eclipses Joseph’s performance. Yet when we consider the gravity of his situation, it’s plain to see God’s casting of Joseph is as flawless as His selection of Mary. The way Joseph subtly handles his role earns his standing as the Bible’s best supporting actor. His willing sacrifice of personal pride and security for the safety of Mary and her Son is astonishing, particularly for one on the brink of manhood. And his daring walk with Mary into an unpredictable, momentous future becomes one of the most moving, least discussed aspects of the Nativity. Perhaps Joseph recedes into the story’s folds because he remains calm from start to finish, taking things day-by-day, and trusting God’s direction without hesitance. Still, without him, the birth and survival of Jesus are inconceivable.

Carpenter Mentality

As with every decision He makes, God’s plan to enter the world in human form accounted for every detail. So it’s no coincidence that He chose a carpenter for His earthly father. Pausing briefly to consider this reveals why. The carpenter mentality superbly reflects God’s mindset and methods. It combines creativity and vision with patience and deftness. A carpenter begins with raw material to slowly mold and assemble it into something useful, one step at a time. What he builds must be beautiful, but also strong enough to serve its purpose. In light of this, we see why Joseph played his role so naturally. He intuitively grasped God needed his help to build a beautiful thing and his primary job was making sure the pieces came together solidly and soundly.

While our stories lack the historical importance of Mary and Joseph’s, they—and our parts in them—are no less eternally significant. God calls us to do exactly what He asked of Mary and Joseph. Like them, we've also been cast to usher His presence and love into the world. We look at ourselves as woefully unqualified and poorly equipped for the job. Then we reflect on Joseph’s life and what he achieved. The hidden beauty in his story emerges as God takes the mentality and skills of a young provincial carpenter and amplifies them into heroic wisdom and effectiveness. What we have doesn’t seem any more special to us than how Joseph’s abilities seemed to him. When God decides to use us, however, the little we have becomes extraordinary.

Mary is the Nativity story's star but Joseph's performance makes him the Bible's best supporting actor.

(Tomorrow: Servant by Choice)

Postscript: Issues and Answers

Recently, I received an email from Jim Johnson, the editor of Straight, Not Narrow. While I’d seen his blog listed on several others I regularly visit, I regret to say I’d not made time to drop by. After finding his way to Straight-Friendly, Jim wrote that he thought it would be “mutually beneficial” if we cross-linked our blogs. His suggestion was spot-on.

Straight, Not Narrow’s focus is “advocating for LGBT equality in the body of Christ from a Progressive Christian viewpoint.” It’s an enlightening compendium of issues and answers that directly impact gay Christian inclusion in the Church. Yet—true to its name—it’s not so narrowly focused that it isn’t of interest and relevance to all believers who care about justice and equality. Furthermore, its spirit and objectives mirror those here, making it a perfect complement. While Straight-Friendly strives to stay focused on inspiring all of us to embrace our rights and responsibilities as true followers of Christ, clicking over to Straight, Not Narrow provides tangible reasons why it’s so essential that we do so. If you’re not yet familiar with Jim’s blog, I strongly recommend you give it a look.


FranIAm said...

I so love that you posted this- as a good little (snicker!) RC girl, I loves me some Mary.

But I really, really loves me some Joseph.

Brilliantly put post about him, thank you!

Tim said...

I loves me some Joseph too, Fran. I think he's one of the most unsung heroes in the Bible and the post was a sort of open fan letter to him.

Thanks for the comment. As happens so often with your notes, this one made me giggle. It was a great start to the day!