With full legal rights to abandon Mary and her unborn child — perhaps to a fate worse than death — Joseph obeyed the Father in becoming a father. When Herod — the Roman Empire’s precursor to “Planned Parenthood” — sought the destruction of the infants, Joseph shielded this child from the murderous rage of infanticide (Matthew 2:13-18). In his obedience, Joseph demonstrated what his other son would later call “pure and undefiled” religion, the kind that cares for the fatherless and the abandoned (James 1:27).
A few years ago the Planned Parenthood Federation of America got my attention by pioneering a Christmas card. The group sent a holiday greeting — complete with sentimental snowflakes and stars — with the caption “Choice on Earth.”
Evangelicals and Roman Catholics rightly noted the incongruity of the nation’s largest abortion provider using an ancient Christian holiday to promote abortion rights. The give-and-take over this card was a quick controversy, forgotten once all the wrapping paper and tinsel were put away for the season.
But the card made me think of Joseph, and how this obscure Middle Eastern laborer could show 21st-century Christians how to celebrate Christmas in a culture of death?
For too long, Christians have concentrated almost exclusively on what we do not believe about Joseph.
We rightly insist that he was not the birth-father of Jesus. Mary, a virgin, conceived the Messiah through the power of the Holy Spirit, with no biological contribution from a man (Luke 1:34-35). And yet, there is so much more that Scripture has to say about Joseph.
In his adoption of Jesus, Joseph is rightly identified as Jesus’ father (Luke 2:41,48). Indeed, Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ roots in Abraham and David through the line of Joseph. It is through Joseph that Jesus is a legal heir to the covenant promises of the Old Testament. It is through Joseph’s legal fatherhood of Jesus that the “hopes and fears of all the years” find their realization in the final son of Abraham, son of David and son of Israel. Jesus did not share Joseph’s DNA, but he claimed him as his father, obeying Joseph perfectly and even following in his vocation. Joseph, after all, was perhaps the first to hear the word “Abba” in the babbling of the Nazarene infant.