New International Version (NIV)
Last Christmas, as my father read this story aloud to my family before we opened presents, I found myself wondering what Joseph thought of Jesus. In the biblical account we have at least a few passages in which Mary speaks, or where we see her in action, but these few verses are one of the only glimpses we have of Joseph in the gospels. Think of this: Mary made it through Jesus whole life, his ministry, and was present at the upper room – she saw the evidence of who her son really was; Joseph, on the other hand, probably died before Jesus’ ministry even began – he did not experience the fruition of his faithfulness in his earthly life. Yet these verses today seem to indicate that Joseph was a highly devout man, and clearly followed the leading of God when it was given to him. We’ll never know in this life what Joseph thought about Jesus, but I wonder sometimes if, when Jesus made his statement about “those who have not seen and yet believe,” he wasn’t thinking of Joseph. It’s common for us to have trouble being faithful when times get hard or when there is no end to our labor in sight – when God doesn’t tell us why we are doing something but still asks it of us anyway. We don’t like it when we feel like life is out of our control. But I think when we feel that way, we should look to Joseph as our model. The radical, out-of-their-control life changes that he and Mary experienced as the earthly parents of Jesus and their faithfulness throughout those changes, is something we should all be able to relate to as we attempt to live out this God-centered life.
Following this line of thought further, I am struck, in reading this and other accounts of Jesus, that no matter where he appears in scripture and no matter who encounters him, drastic change occurs. An angel appears to announce his coming, and young Mary is suddenly a mother, Joseph an adoptive father – and they’re constantly on the move. The magi see the star and come traveling all the way from the far east, leaving who knows what responsibilities behind in the process. Herod hears about Jesus’ birth and not only is he personally affected, he goes on a reactionary rampage that impacts the entire region. And in other gospel accounts we see the shepherds coming to worship, directed to Jesus by a group of angels that couldn’t contain their enthusiasm. The birth of Jesus in this account, in human terms, was small and insignificant – a child born into essential poverty in a place where animals were kept. And yet that insignificant child literally rocked the whole universe with his arrival, his life, and his eventual departure from this earth.
Think of it – a new star appeared and the sky opened at his birth, allowing a troupe of angels into our world. During his life, at one word seas were calmed, the dead were raised, and those who were suffering were healed. At his death, the earth split, letting the dead out of their graves in one of the most eerily dramatic events in biblical record. And when he finally ascended into heaven, the sky opened once again so that he could return to his rightful place at the hand of God. Jesus as a human had so much impact that it literally affected the physical laws of the world he inhabited. There is nothing calm, nothing insignificant, about this picture of Jesus. But the fact remains – he was born, and he was a child. He was born into poverty, and grew up into obscurity. He apparently blended in with his extended family so well that when he disappeared for a couple of days on a road trip, his parents just assumed he was hanging out with the cousins. More than anything else about Jesus, it is this incredible paradox that I have trouble wrapping my mind around. He was fully God, and fully man – a baby with the divine inside himself; God wrapped in skin. A touchable deity. How is this possible? Since none of us is divine, my guess is we’ll never quite be able to understand Jesus’ incarnation. We see this life as finite, as limited, and we are swept along by patterns of wind and wave over which we have no control. Our minds can never encompass the enormity of who Jesus is. But even as we recognize that, I think contemplating the truth about him is intrinsic to our faith. Like the earth into which he made his quiet, explosive entrance, when we see Jesus and begin to understand who he is…how could we not be changed?