by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The reading for Sunday, December 21, 2014:
Matthew 1: 20-22
I have done some thinking of Joseph, as many of us do, in the Advent season. He thinks of quietly unweaving himself from Mary, who is pregnant. This behavior is our first indication of his character. Under ancient law, he could have had Mary stoned to death, but he takes a gentler path.
And then, he follows the instructions of the angel who tells him of God's plan. He could have turned away. He could have said, "I did not sign up for this!" He could have said, "No thanks. I want a normal wife and a regular life."
Instead, he turned towards Mary and accepted God's vision. He's there when the family needs to flee to Egypt. He's there when the older Jesus is lost and found in the temple. We assume that he has died by the time Christ is crucified, since he's not at the cross.
When I was a teenager, our discussions of Joseph, if they happened at all, revolved around how it must have felt to have raised a child that wasn't his. As I look back, I think about how many of the fathers around us were doing just that, as it was the 1970's and early 80's, that time when so many families split apart and reconfigured into different families. But none of us grew up saying, "I hope I'm a really good stepparent some day."
Many of us grow up internalizing the message that if we're not changing the world in some sort of spectacular way, we're failures. Those of us who are Christians may have those early disciples as our role models, those hard-core believers who brought the Good News to the ancient world by going out in pairs.
But Joseph shows us a different reality. It's quite enough to be a good parent. It's quite enough to have an ordinary job. It's quite enough to show up, day after day, dealing with both the crises and the opportunities.
Joseph reminds us that even the ones born into the spotlight need people in the background who are tending to the details. When we think about those early disciples and apostles, we often forget that they stayed in people's houses, people who fed them and arranged speaking opportunities for them, people who gave them encouragement when their task seemed too huge, people who gave money.
I imagine Joseph doing much the same thing, as he helped Jesus become a man. I imagine the life lessons that Joseph administered as he gave Jesus carpentry lessons. I imagine that he helped Jesus understand human nature, in all the ways that parents have helped their offspring understand human nature throughout history.
Let us not be so quick to discount this kind of work. Let us praise the support teams that make the way possible for the people who will change the world.