(Shawn, Nicol, and Todd, Christmas 1979)
"All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. 'Isn't this Joseph's son?' they asked."
Luke 4:22 (NIV)
I will never forget our first Christmas that we celebrated at Nkara-Ewa in December 1979. Evergreen trees do not grow in Congo, so Dad came up with the ingenious idea of sticking cut palm fronds from the nearest palm tree (there were several in our yard) and sticking them upright in a tin bucket filled with sand. Nicol, Todd, and I giggled over the silly-looking thing and got right to work making our own construction paper ornaments. Mom popped popcorn and, in between eating mouthfuls, we strung the kernels on colored thread. What we lacked in the way of resources, we made up for in creativity.We had never had so much fun decorating the Christmas tree. After standing back to admire our handiwork, we no longer saw a silly-looking tree, but one that had become special because of our own unique touches to it. I can barely tell that story to my kids today without crying. I can't even explain why. I think it is because I saw something that was ugly and seemed out of place transformed before my eyes into what shines brightest in my memory. I have lived through almost thirty Christmases since then, but that little palm-frond, sand-in-a-bucket tree is by far my favorite.
God the Father determined that an obscure carpenter would give his name to His Son. I have often pondered why Joseph of Nazareth was chosen to be the earthly father of the Messiah. Wouldn't it have made more sense for Joseph to have a more lucrative career? After all, Jesus was the King of angels. In my mind, He should have had the finest of everything. His earthly father should have been able to provide Him with the best education, comfortable circumstances, and a name beyond reproach. Joseph could provide Jesus with none of those things.
I am sad to say that Joseph has never gotten the honor from me that he deserves. He has been reduced in my mind to little more than the leader of the donkey carrying Mary, great with child, to Bethlehem. I have overlooked the incredible faith Joseph had to have to be able to believe that his fiancee, Mary, had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. I don't believe ANY man has heard that as an explanation for a surprise pregnancy! Being the upright Jewish man that he was, Joseph let his good name die to the cruel mouths of the small town he lived in the day he took Mary to be his wife. If I piece the facts of Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2 together, I believe that Mary was already three months along when she returned from visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, when Joseph married her. It would have been quickly discovered that Joseph and Mary's marriage date fell short of the nine months required to deliver a baby. You and I have both met people who never let scandal die. They choose to believe the worst, never able to look beyond their own cruelty.
God will never use someone long-term who competes for His glory. Joseph submitted time and time again to the voice of God. God was able to trust His beloved Son to a fallen human being like Joseph because Joseph chose to die to himself over and over again. Joseph never argued with God. He immediately obeyed, even in the face of the scorn of others, even without the option of ever being able to explain himself or his actions. What was his reward for that? Not much, by human standards. There was no one patting him on the back for what he did. More than likely, he received disdain from others. He was thought of as the fool. Joseph's self-worth was not based on what others saw, but what was more important to him than anything else--the approval and favor of God Himself.
In my self-absorbed American Christianity, I forget about the rest of the world which constantly lives under the tension of being able to put food in the mouths of their children. As I rush around these last few days to get my children what they do not need, I can so easily forget that December 25th is just another day of struggle for so many of my beloved brothers and sisters around the world. I am caught up in apathetic oblivion as I walk away from the table, after committing the sin of gluttony, that the abundance I have just enjoyed is a meal that many I know will never experience this side of heaven. In the middle of my blessings, I can't easily identify with the poverty of the majority of the world--that world that needed Jesus to be born in a stable so that they could understand His greatness.
Why did God pick Joseph, a man we never read about again after Jesus turned twelve? Because the brilliant heart of this obscure and humble man perfectly fit to be the earthly father of the Savior of the world. It was exactly because Joseph had no resources of his own that God deliberately chose him for the honor of raising Jesus in his home. Why didn't God "clean up" the scandal surrounding Jesus' birth? Because in Joseph He saw a man willing to suffer with His Son. Joseph was willing to be an obscure player so that the most obscure sinner could be pointed to Christ, the One worthy of our worship.
What about you, my sweet sister? Are you feeling obscure, caught in a scandal you didn't create but are forced to live with, or are not receiving any recognition for your obedience? You are perfectly positioned to have the favor of God on your life. You have been set up to glorify the King of kings and the Lord of lords. My question is are you willing to crucify all your human need for adulation and adoration by human beings that are made of dust or are you willing to be a Joseph and look for the eternal reward that is surely ahead of you?
Jesus, You just do things totally foreign to my way of thinking. Thank You that You left all the riches of heaven to choose an earthly life of poverty, hardship, and suffering so that You truly can be the Savior of the world for the most obscure. Your example is where I find my purpose. Thank You that You take the ugly and what shouldn't be used and, with Your marvelous touch, transform it into shining splendor.