Want to See Manliness? Look at Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem
The second Sunday of Advent is a reminder of faith, and commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. We tend to skip Joseph and focus on the mother and child, but he played an important role in the story too. And in an age plagued by absentee fathers and false notions of manliness, Joseph is timely medicine.
Mary had become pregnant before the two were married, and Joseph knew that he hadn’t slept with her. So Joseph, like any normal person, decided to call off the wedding. But how he planned to do it gives us our first glance into his character. He planned to break things off quietly instead of humiliating her publicly. He would not, in other words, seek revenge for Mary’s apparent betrayal. He was truly a gentle man.
But then an angel visited him in a dream and told him, “‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”
Joseph had three options.
Joseph’s Three Options
We’ve all done it. When it just seems too unreasonably hard to obey God … grant yourself an exception! God is watching, but maybe if we cover our eyes he can’t see us.
Joseph could have chalked his dream up to having eaten too many olives the night before, called off the wedding and married some other nice Jewish girl. If he tied the knot with Mary, a woman who would give birth too soon after they were married, everyone would assume that he’d slept with Mary before the wedding or that he’d been cuckolded. And since he couldn’t expect the baby to look like him, he could look forward to everyone settling on the latter theory eventually.
But hey, he could have told himself, people have dreams all the time. There’s no reason we can’t dream up an angel, right? And if the dream seemed more real than any dream he’d ever had, and the angel beyond anything his sleeping mind could have imagined, there’s probably a good explanation for that too, right? Life is strange, nothing more to it. Don’t borrow trouble. Find the exit!
Or Joseph could take a leap of faith. As a first-century Israelite, he probably believed that God sometimes instructed people through dreams, and the dream must have seemed credible to him. He didn’t indulge in hyper-skeptical, self-serving doubt. He had faith that God is faithful, and he accepted Mary and her child.
All In for Bethlehem
Some time later Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem for a census. It was his family’s hometown, and the hometown of his ancestor King David. He had no choice about going himself, but surely he didn’t have to take his betrothed, Mary, with him. Even if women had to travel for the census, he could have let her father or someone else take care of her. And given the circumstances, he may have been very tempted to do so.
But Joseph recognized his stewardship responsibility for Mary and the Son of God, and he didn’t shirk it or satisfy himself with grudging half measures.
So they went together to Bethlehem, Joseph, Mary and her unborn child. Instead of leaving them behind, which would have been much easier for him, Joseph took his pregnant betrothed across the country, searched for a room for a man with a woman about to give birth, and dealt with Mary’s labor and delivery in a homely stable.
And so Joseph was present to witness a greater miracle than any man had ever seen: the birth of God the Son.
Our Faith Does Not Disappoint
Joseph’s moment of glory came after a relatively short journey. But all who are faithful in Christ will enjoy eternal glory, after the long journey, and after Christ’s return.
And if we are ever tempted to believe that Jesus has forgotten to return, or that the Apostles who were tortured and died for their faith merely lied or were confused, that the Resurrection is only a fable about a Jewish rabbi and not a past and future miracle, we should remember Joseph.
Joseph’s faith was not a mistake. God called him to the hard road, and Joseph manned up.
That choice eventually meant that Joseph had to flee with Mary to a foreign land. It meant that there would be snickers and whispers about “Mary’s son” — not Joseph’s. A lesser man would have been too concerned about his manhood, his rep, and so missed the chance to be a model of manhood for all ages.
Instead, Joseph put obedience and family over himself. He chose to be a man of God, and not just a guy.
Joseph was a man of faith. Watch him taking Mary and the unborn Child to Bethlehem. Watch the last of a long line of men of faith, obediently waiting for the Messiah. Advent is a time to honor such men, to remember those men of faith, to remember to emulate them, and for us women especially to honor the Josephs in our midst.
Pray for them, and pray that God will raise up more of them, this Advent.
This article has been slightly edited since its publication. It was first published as “Advent — Joseph’s Faith and the Art of Manliness.”