Despite being one of the central characters in a traditional nativity scene, we know very little about Joseph. But even what we see in the gospels paints a complex picture.
A complex picture
We know Joseph is from the prestigious line of David (Matthew 1:1-16), and yet he is working and known as a humble carpenter. Most compellingly, though, he is described as faithful to the law in a time which meant strict adherence to the letter of the law. Yet, he is compassionate towards the woman who had seemingly brought shame to his name, seeking to divorce her quietly.
The perfect intersection
This combination of faithfulness and mercy gives an insight into the nature of Jesus’ mission. We see throughout the gospels, stories of Jesus’s commitment to both faithfulness and compassion. Jesus presents us with the perfect intersection of these two seeming contrasts. And as His followers approaching Christmas in an increasingly secular society, we too will require both of these attributes.
There are aspects of Christmas that test my faithfulness. The temptation to be drawn into the hyper-commercialisation, the tensions that come from interacting with family members and friends who have different values, and the trivialisation of the power of the incarnation. And, yet, I need to respond faithfully in the face of these things. I am challenged to continue in the example of faithfulness and compassion which was foreshadowed by Joseph and perfected by Jesus.
What it means for me and you
This means responding with patience and grace to those with whom we don’t agree… even when it’s about the true meaning of Christmas. We need to let our desire and passion to be faithful draw us deeper into genuine compassion, rather than letting it draw us into the kind of identity politics which both defines and erodes our communities.
This means embracing the big “And yet”. The one which Christmas best embodies, and Paul describes:
“And yet, I will show you the most excellent way. Love.” – 1 Corinthians 12:21-13:1-13.
Like Joseph. Like Jesus.
Thank you for showing me what it means to be both faithful and compassionate. Lord, help me to follow in your footsteps this Christmas – when tensions and stresses are high and my flesh is weak, when it would be easier to give in and be faithless – help me to choose differently.