Remembering the Forgotten Man

"And Mary stayed with her (Elizabeth) about three months, and then returned to her home." Luke 1:56
"Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child." Luke 2:1-5

Dr. Luke does not fill in all the blanks for us about one of the key players in the Christmas story. Between returning home to Nazareth and leaving for Bethlehem there is a six month period of time. Luke fails to mention the reaction of Joseph to the condition of Mary, when she got home from the city of Judah, three months pregnant. We have to turn to Matthew's account to discover two passages that tell us more about the man God used to protect and provide for His Son.

The first focal passage reveals Joseph's connection to the blood line of the kings of Israel. Matthew contains the crescendo of the genealogical grand finale listed in Matthew 1:1-16. "And to Jacob was born Joseph, the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ (The Messiah). Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the time of Christ fourteen generations." (v. 16-17)

Family trees are fascinating. In the mid-seventies, "Roots", a TV miniseries chronicled one man's search for his ancestors that took him all the way back to Africa. Millions of people tuned in, and later conducted their own search for significance by tracing their lineage as far back as they could go. Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus all the way back to Abraham. When you shake this family tree some unlikely fruit drops from the branches. This account includes a conniving scoundrel, a prostitute, a pagan, a womanizer, and a murderer sitting on the tree limbs along with heroes and heroines of faith. It is a real mixed bag of fruit.

A quick study of your own heritage will probably reveal some ancestors that you would hate to have show up at the next family reunion. Dad's side of the family came from Wales, France, and Germany. Mom's family heritage is Irish. Her dad was a diminutive, red-haired Irishman named Cavanaugh who changed his name to Reynolds, when he moved from New York to Mississippi. He never told her why, and she didn't ask. Some things you just don't want to know. Her mother was a Callahan from Mississippi. All of their genealogical records were destroyed in a home fire when mom was a little girl. We think we had family sneak into the USA through the ports of New York and New Orleans, and apparently had family fighting on both sides of the battle at Gettysburg. You can see my own family is a Heinz 57 mixture. Dad was from Pennsylvania. Mom was born in Mississippi. They met in Louisiana. They were married in Florida. After WWII, Dad saw a star in the west, and moved to Texas. All four of their kids were born under the Lone Star. Wise men still follow the star. I like to say we are an All American Family.

The Jews placed tremendous importance in their blood lines. Matthew includes the genealogical account to document Joseph's clear connection with the royal lineage of King David. The Messiah was prophesied to be a child that would come from the line of David. Joseph was the earthly link with royal blood, and Mary provided the heavenly connection with the throne of God. This was a huge reference to the fulfilling of the Scriptures, regarding the coming of the Messiah.

The second passage reveals Joseph's character. "Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name, Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.' " (Matthew 1:18-21)

Joseph was within his rights to put Mary away. When she returned to Nazareth, after her three month visit with Elizabeth, her pregnancy was impossible to hide. This was a clear violation of the covenant agreement of their betrothal. For one year, they were to have the legal status of husband and wife, but they were not to engage in sexual intercourse. This would jeopardize the legitimacy of the marriage and the offspring. They were to be chaste with one another, and most certainly they were not to be sexually promiscuous with anyone else. This would be the ultimate deal breaker.

If the pregnancy was an honor for Mary, it was a humiliation for Joseph. Apparently, Mary did not try to explain to Joseph what the angel had said to her . She must have known if her pregnancy was hard for him to process, the explanation of it would be impossible for him to believe. Joseph knew he was not the father of the child, but the rumor mills of Nazareth were running red hot with the scandal. He was being burned in spite of his innocence. God intervened for Mary, and sent an angel to speak to Joseph in a dream. The Word of God came to him on one of those restless nights that must have had him tossing and turning with a broken heart. His response to the angel's message was a model of trust and obey. "And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus." (v. 24)

The man God chose to shelter, and feed His Son was a man of integrity, and compassion. Joseph chose not to take offense at something that was highly offensive to him. The Bible says, "being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, (he) desired to put her away secretly." This reveals a great deal about the heart of the man God would trust to nurture His Son. The private pain and public humiliation that he was experiencing was real, and yet he chose to respond rather than react to it. He may not have understood what God was up to in Mary's life, but he chose not to use his moral superiority as a whipping post for his fiance's moral failure. His first response was to protect the one he loved the most in the world. Even if she had wronged him, and exposed him to scandalous attacks, he would not let her be publicly humiliated. When the angel's message clarified what was going on, he got in on it. Trauma without drama is a sign of strength. He let God take a hopeless situation and give him a new perspective on it. He may have been shaken by the facts, but he was now confident of the outcome. This was a righteous man, indeed.

Joseph is the role model to follow when we think we have all the facts, and we are about to react to them. At first glance, Mary's pregnancy had to look like the worst news a man could ever receive. Joseph was in danger of adding up one and one and getting three. This was a new math, and he needed a tutor to help him come to the right solution to the problem he was facing. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Joseph had the facts, but he didn't know what they meant. Wisdom is the capacity to know the facts, and understand what they mean. FACT #1: Mary was pregnant. FACT #2: Joseph was not the father. FACT #3: This is terrible news. See what I mean? Mary's pregnancy was really GOOD NEWS. God usually delivers His greatest gifts packaged in the strangest wrapping paper. Joseph almost missed out on God's best, by being a good man. He chose not to disgrace Mary. God wanted him to embrace her. He would be her rock, and Mary would rock the child. God has a role for all of us to play. When He writes the script, we can be confident the story has a happy ending.