In my sermon on Sunday, I talked about how “expectant” fathers often feel like outsiders looking in: We would do anything for this precious new life growing inside our wives’ bodies, but we’re helpless. The process of pregnancy and childbirth is completely beyond our control. And during those months of pregnancy, we can only experience the child in the most indirect way—through ultrasounds and sonograms, for example, or when the baby is large enough to feel kicks. Needless to say, we expectant fathers don’t even get parties thrown for us. (I know: try passing a watermelon through a fire hose, and then let’s talk about parties!)
The point is that Joseph felt all these feelings and more. He was doubly an outsider looking in. He knew that the child conceived in Mary’s womb wasn’t his, at least until he could adopt the child. From what I understand, this is why it was important for Joseph to name the child. In that culture, the act of naming was the moment Jesus was adopted into Joseph’s family, and into the royal line of David.
One question I didn’t explore in my sermon deserves some consideration: Why did God choose Joseph? It was surely no accident that he was Jesus’ adoptive father, any more than it was for Mary to be the child’s mother.
In order for us to even consider the question, however, we have to think through the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus didn’t emerge from the womb on that first Christmas endowed with superhuman knowledge, power, and wisdom, fully equipped from birth to be Messiah and Son of God. On the contrary, after the 12-year-old Jesus visits the temple in Jerusalem, Luke writes that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:52). Jesus grew physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
(That’s why I never understood the line in “Away in the Manger” about “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” He was as helpless and vulnerable as any baby, needing the love and care of his parents. Of course Jesus cried! Why wouldn’t he cry?)
Jesus grew into the person that he did in part because of Joseph—his love, his example, his instruction, his discipline. He wasn’t simply a chip off the block because he was like his heavenly Father, but also because he was like his earthly father. In fact, Jesus envisioned God as a loving Father (think of the parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance) in part because of his experience of Joseph as a loving father. Jesus called his heavenly Father “daddy” (abba in Aramaic) because he first experienced Joseph as daddy.
To say the least, it challenges me to think more soberly about my role as a human father.
Every Advent and Christmas season, preachers preach about Joseph as an example of discipleship—how he answered the call to be a disciple of Jesus. But he was also called to be a father, a parent. He was faithful to that calling, too.
I’m called to be a father. Am I faithful? Will I be?