By Dr. Michael A. Milton, Crosswalk.com
We are considering the angelic visitations to certain persons in the New Testament – concerning the birth of Jesus Christ. This morning we come to Joseph. I want to treat this passage a little differently. I don't want to consider what promise the angel made to Joseph – but to really examine this man and his character and his response to God. Thus, we read:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25 English Standard Version, ESV).
This is, of course, not Father's Day, but the Christmas season. Yet, in coming to Joseph, I am struck by the warming contrast between the father's image in our time and the truth that this passage teaches. There is a dangerous gap in the two portrayals of maleness, and, thus, there is a correction needed. The human revision of the God-ordained “Creation Ordinances,” especially the role relationships of men and women, lead to heartache, confusion, and ultimate chaos. We need the truth and subsequent healing of God's Word this Advent.1
The Crisis of Manhood in our Society
Men and fathers are often the objects of jokes today. That is not just my opinion but is the peer-reviewed result of scientific research.2 Just take a look at what Madison Avenue gives us in the way of commercials. Men are usually put in situations where they are incompetent, stupid, and insensitive. As one researcher put it, men are cast as “moronic” males unable to relate or be responsible beyond sports, food, and base desires.3 Television comedy—which seems to this writer to be much more of a tragedy—usually follows this postmodern form. Moreover, men, in general, may be guilty of contributing little to refute these pathetic portrayals with their own behavior.
The other day, I heard a fellow tell the story that two men were on the golf course, and as a hearse passed by, one of them took off his hat and bowed his head. The other fellow was impressed and told him, "I didn't know you were such a respectful fellow." To which the other replied, "Well, I was married to her for 40 years!” Okay. It is a wee bit funny. However, there is a latent sadness even there. For beyond the joke there is an underground stream poisoned with disappointment and sorrow over manhood. It is as if to say, “Men just don’t get it.” This creates dysfunction in men and detriment in the lives of everyone else. Why? Because the Lord has given the male of mankind a unique role, that of strength in the service of others, beginning with our families.
If you long to be what God intended you to be, men, then this message is for you. If you long to experience fulfillment as a human being, the biblical record about Joseph is a blessing for us all. Indeed, Joseph of Nazareth, a son of David, is a study in Advent strength shrouded in apparent weakness, Advent waiting becoming a Christmas discovery, and in childlike trusting in the humanly unimaginable.
Enter God's answer to the problem – God's solution for our deepest needs as human beings. Enter God's image of what a man should be. Enter the beginning of the Christmas story according to St. Matthew. Enter Joseph.
Joseph was an ordinary man – we learn later - a carpenter, i.e., a middle-class craftsman in a remote northern village of the Roman province of Israel. Joseph was a man about to be married, settle down, raise a family, and build his business. His dreams were domestic, simple, and local. There is nothing of grandiosity about this man Joseph. He is as sturdy and plain as the tools he uses each day. Yet, Joseph’s calloused hands are never too rough to hold the feminine hand of his Mary in loving expectation of a life together.
However, the ordinary is the setting for the extraordinary in God's Word. God stepped into this otherwise unmemorable man's life and did something unforgettable. Joseph would never be the same again, nor would we. Joseph would become the earthly father of God the Son. But, in doing so, he is not, of course, the "physical" father. Jesus Christ was born of a virgin – He is the only begotten of God the Father. But what must we make of this man, Joseph?
We often miss Joseph. He is the minor character in the Christmas story. Sure, he's in all manger scenes but never says much. This is, of course, just like Joseph. Behind the scenes, he is a significant factor in the story – but his role is diminished by Joseph himself. He is unassuming. He is quiet. Joseph is there when needed, but not much else is said of him. He is, in fact, unheard of after Jesus' 12th birthday. It is likely that he died sometime after that event and before Jesus began his public ministry at age thirty. The angel's visit to this man introduces us to him and, I think, has a message from the Lord to our lives today. As we plan on continuing our study of Joseph, we have plenty to consider even at this juncture in the Biblical record.
Firstly, all time is holy. The culminating events of life result from the transformation of the ordinary preceding. Secondly, all people can be vessels of God in a mission that will transform the cosmos. Hence, your humble faith, say, in reading a Bible story to your little one, your grandchild, or a child in Sunday School, will, undoubtedly, be used by the Lord to reach far into the generations that follow. Thirdly, God uses men—and, I mean to say, the male of Mankind—men who yield to God's Word, even when God's ways transcend understanding. Here is one example: Strength that moves the world is servanthood that lifts up others. The influence that changes lives results from a humble man trusting in God. Heroes are those who trade their pride for God's plans. In a word, Joseph is that kind of man. Jesus calls each of us this Advent—and in every season of our lives—to trust Him like Joseph. When we do, our wives, daughters, mothers, and fathers, sons, brothers, and brothers in the Lord are led to the place where peace is found, and faith is often born amid chaos. O, how we need such men today.
Read Lesson 1 Here: Why the Church Year?
1. See the commentary on 1 Timothy 2 in Knight, George W. 1992. The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press.
2. Ramsey, Jeffrey T. 2015. "Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century." The Journal of American Culture 38, no. 4: 417.
3. Myers, J. 2016. The Future of Men: Men on Trial: Inkshares, Chapter Seven, Kindle Books.
Photo credit: ©SparrowStock
MICHAEL A. MILTON (Ph.D., University of Wales; MPA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; MDIV, Knox Theological Seminary; Cert. in Higher Education Teaching, Harvard University) serves as the Provost and James Ragsdale Chair of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine College and Seminary. A Presbyterian minister (PCA, ARP), Milton has penned more than thirty books, hundreds of articles in journals, magazines, opinion columns, and newspapers. As president of the D. James Kennedy Institute and Faith for Living, Milton has served as a public theologian. His work has been cited on numerous national media outlets as he provides historic Christian insights into faith and life in a changing world. Dr. Milton's record of ministry includes seminary chancellor, president of three seminaries, senior minister of one of America's historic churches, founder of three congregations, and a Christian academy. A composer and artist, Mike and Mae Milton reside in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Learn more at michaelmilton.org/about. [from a press release by McCain& Associates.]
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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