Mary, the mother of Jesus, features prominently in our Christmas celebrations. Christmas carols, greeting cards and nativity reenactments all celebrate the important role she played in the birth of the Messiah. But what about Joseph? What does the Christmas story say about the role of fathers?
The Gospel of Matthew, written in the second half of the first century to a predominantly Jewish audience, places Joseph at the center of the birth of Christ. Complimentary to the Gospel of Luke where most of the activity centers on Mary, Matthew reports that it is Joseph that is instructed by an angel in a dream not to call off his impending marriage to Mary. Joseph is pictured as a decisive leader, protector and provider for his family in this Gospel.
The birth narratives of Jesus in Matthew, not only highlights the importance of family as the building block of a stable society, but also communicates the importance of fathers in the raising of children. With Joseph as our example, four lessons for fathers can be taken from this Christmas story.
First, to be a father is not just a biological description. Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus, but as instructed by the angel took Mary as his wife and provided a home for Jesus. Being a father is a matter of the heart. Joseph is a great role model for those fathers that have chosen to raise non-biological children as their own. Fathers create homes for children by enlarging their hearts and providing a safe and nurturing environment for them.
Second, fathers model good values to their children. Matthew calls Joseph a just man. This is in sharp contrast to the wicked Herod in the same Gospel, who kills numerous boys in his narcissistic rage as he attempts to remove the pending threat of the birth of the King of the Jews. We are inundated with so many painful recollections of fathers that did not match the expectations of their children.
Good fathers embody the moral and hopeful ideals of their children. They model the way.
Third, fathers do all in their power to protect their family. Joseph, warned in a dream about the murderous plans of Herod, moves his family to the safety of Egypt. This selfless act of Joseph illustrates what good fathers do best – they place the interest of their families above their own.
Lastly, fathers provide a future for their children. Once again, Matthew records that Joseph in returning from Egypt scanned the environment and decided to move Jesus and Mary to Galilee, far from the watchful eye of Archelaus, the ruler that succeeded Herod. Good fathers recognize that fathering does not end when children turn of age. Fathers consider the future of their children beyond their own mortality and work to provide a prosperous and successful future for them.
Perhaps the time has come to reconsider the role of Joseph in our celebration of Christmas. May we rediscover not only his good example, but the stabilizing and transformative effect that good fathers have on children, families and societies.