I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are. In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.
He was a decent guy. He worked hard. He had a place in the community, provided an essential service. He went to the synagogue, listened to the law, tried to live it out, even though most of his day was just about the tools in his workshop, the job at hand, the hot meal waiting when he finished his work. But he was honest with his customers and he honored his father and mother and he rested when he was supposed to rest.
His life seemed to be on track. He had work. He had his family. He was promised to be married soon. They would have their own house eventually. He would build it himself. They would have children and raise them in the same town where they had grown up. He would teach his sons to build and to build well.
Then the girl got pregnant. She completely betrayed him. It hurt his heart to think that she would reject him but it hurt his pride even worse. There was no hiding this. Eventually everyone was going to know what she’d done to him.
Still, he was a decent guy. He was hurt and he was angry, but he didn’t want to make things worse for her than they already were. Her life was going to be bad enough. Obviously, he couldn’t marry her now, but at least he could end their engagement quietly. If he didn’t make it public, it would be a while before the rest of the town found out why he had done it. She would have time to make other plans, a chance to leave town before the gossip started. She probably had relatives somewhere who would take her in. He was pretty sure there was an uncle or a cousin in Jerusalem, a priest, he had heard.
He would be righteous and follow the law and have nothing to do with her sin. But he would also be merciful to her. He wouldn’t say cruel things or demand repayment. It was the decent thing to do. He knew God would be pleased.
Then the angel came.
He was just lying on his bed, trying to sleep, when the most unbelievable request anyone had ever received came his way.
Don’t be afraid. Marry her anyway. Believe that she didn’t sin. Believe that her child is from God. It’s a boy. Name him Jesus. He’s the Messiah.
So much for his life being on track.
His days of being a decent, hard-working, ordinary carpenter like his father were over. This was going to take so much more than decency.
This was going to take faith the likes of which few people had ever known. To believe that the Messiah they had all been waiting for while hundreds of years passed was going to come now, to come here. To believe that his backwater, teenage fiance was the chosen mother of the Son of God.
This was going to take humility so enormous that it could swallow all of his pride. If he married her, everyone was going to think her sin was his sin. His parents would be crushingly disappointed in him. His standing in the community would plummet.
This was going to take courage so ridiculous it felt a lot like foolishness. To willingly accept the end of his life as he’d known it. To face certain rejection and unavoidable danger. To take on the responsibility of protecting and raising the most important person in human history.
He lay in his bed and let it all wash over him. Five minutes ago he had been so proud of being a decent man, and now he was expected to be…this.
But it turned out that being a decent, hard-working man like his father before him was exactly the preparation he had needed to become the humbly courageous man of faith this moment required.
The moment he considered that it might be true, that this girl might be innocent and faithful and scared and alone, his sense of justice left him no option but to stand by her. No decent man would refuse to shelter and care for someone who was taking on such an enormous and important burden.
And once begun, he would work at this task as hard as he had worked at everything else. If he could pour his sweat into building a sturdy wall, he could exert at least as much energy in defending a defenseless girl. If he could sacrifice sleep to work on his neighbor’s roof, he could sacrifice a little reputation for the woman who would be his wife. If he could dig a foundation while the finished home was only an idea, he could follow this unknown path step by step, taking on only what was right in front of him.
So he lay there in the dark, the angel gone, the words still echoing in his head, and he didn’t figure it all out. He went back and forth between acceptance and anger, between philosophy and fear, until finally he fell asleep.
And then in the morning, he did what he always did. He got up and did his duty.
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)