While my husband is at work and the kids are at school, I find some time to pull out the boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations. Preparing the house for the season is a Herculean task, but one I adore and anticipate with joy every year. I love see each room transform as shades of red and green begin to litter the shelves, walls, and counters. I love some decorations simply for their beauty but many I love more for their memories.
I leave a few things for the family to do together. The tree is a two-person job and decorating it becomes a family affair, though, truthfully, my husband and I still end up doing the bulk of it as our children’s attention tends to wax and wane. They kids will find “their” ornaments, the ones with their names on them, and my husband and I will reflect on friends and family that gifted some ornament or another to us or on the time we purchased it together to mark a special occasion.
Special attention is reserved, however, for all of our nativity sets. We have the Snoopy set, the wooden set made especially for children to play with, one made of clay, and another of porcelain. We make an inventory of each one: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, the wise men, the angel, maybe a star, and certainly some animals. Usually there is a debate about which one is Joseph and which are the shepherds, they all look so much alike.
It’s interesting how we say, “Mary and Joseph;” Joseph always being Mary’s “plus one” to the party.
I walk over and pick up Joseph from one of our sets and turn him over in my hands. Too often he is treated as an accessory, even in scripture. He disappears entirely after the story of the boy Jesus in the temple in Luke’s gospel. Mark never mentions him; neither does Paul in any of his letters.
I look at the small Joseph in my hands and wonder, anew, at his faithfulness. To marry a tainted woman, especially in Joseph’s time, was scandalous and Mary was tainted, carrying another man’s child. At least, that is how the world would see it. In a dream, an angel commands him to accept Mary, despite her condition, and trust that the child to be born is holy.
Against all odds, Joseph does as the angel commands. He could have written off the angel’s appearing as a dream. He could have bowed to social pressure and cast Mary out, as would have been expected. He could have walked away or cast out the son he knew wasn’t his own. But, instead, he stayed. He raised the child and loved the mother. He chose to bear down, deep into his faith, and remain steadfast and true to God and to Mary.
What would you do if every instinct, every societal norm, even every religious expectation told you to take one path but you knew God had called you to another? Would you be strong enough not to bow to pressure? What if it meant being abandoned by your friends and family? What if everyone called you a “fool” and shook their heads at your poor judgement?
This Christmas season, may we commit ourselves anew, not to the beautiful baby who smiles beatifically from his manger, but to the radical man who defies the world by dying on a cross, an ultimate sign of foolishness. May we find in our hearts the steadfastness and faithfulness of Joseph who dared to stay, dared to hope, dared to say “yes” to God.
I leave you with a poem I wrote many years ago during one of the first Christmases when I stopped seeing Joseph, the accessory, and started appreciating Joseph, the man.
A very blessed Advent and Christmas to you all.
Against the Screams
A young woman lies,
resting between the screams of pain.
A loyal husband waits.
Does he feel angry against the screams?
Does he question his decision?
Does he trust the angel in this moment?
Against her screams, can he believe?
Is he scared that the angel wasn’t real?
That it is all a lie?
Do those screams bring forth a savior
or a bastard son?
In this moment, does he have faith?
Does he stay beside her?
Hold her hand?
Or does he go outside to wonder, wait?
He screams cut through the quiet dark of night.
And against the screams, he waits.