FIRST-PERSON: Joseph: silent, forgotten yet remarkably obedient
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Joseph, the husband of Mary, is the forgotten man of Christmas.
He never speaks a word in the biblical record. He is Joseph the silent. He ranks only slightly higher than an extra in the cast.
Although 15 U.S. cities are named for Joseph, he remains the forgotten man of the Christmas story.
But Joseph deserves more than that.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say." Of Joseph we might say, "What he did speaks so loudly that there was no need for him to say anything." Joseph is remarkably simple, but he also is simply remarkable.
It would be difficult to imagine a more complicated and devastating situation than the one in which Joseph found himself. He had a bride who was pregnant because of a strange involvement with God. Joseph bore the condemnation and pressure of a community that would not and could not possibly understand. He was a northern Palestinian cabinetmaker who was told by God to go to Bethlehem and then suddenly instructed to flee to Egypt.
Joseph's response can be stated in a single, simple word: obedience.
He obeyed God immediately. God spoke and Joseph married Mary.
He obeyed God in painful circumstances. Mary and Joseph were betrothed or engaged. According to Jewish tradition, step one was the consent phase. Consent was usually reached when the girl was 12 or 13 years of age. During this time, the girl continued to live with her parents. However, this was considered a legally ratified marriage. The second step was the formal transferral of the bride to the husband's home where he assumed her support. She was to be taken to his home chaste, a virgin. Between steps one and two, Mary was found to be pregnant. All kinds of thoughts and options must have flooded Joseph's mind. To be the object of suspicion and back-street criticism in a little town like Nazareth was not easy.
He obeyed in spite of fear. Joseph was terrified to learn of his wife's virgin pregnancy. God told Joseph, "Fear not." In spite of his fear, Joseph obeyed.
He obeyed God by staking everything on God's word alone. Joseph received a word from God that came to him in a dream. He believed God and staked his life and future on that conviction. When instructed by God to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, Joseph did as he was told. He accepted the consequences of obedience because he trusted God.
While Joseph is often the forgotten man of Christmas, his example can be an enormous challenge, blessing and inspiration to us all.
May our heart's desire this Christmas be obedience to God.
Draper is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.