When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. Matthew 1:24-25 (NRSV)
My twin brother Dennis was an athlete that excelled in high school, especially football, track & field and baseball. I on the other hand, not so much. I would much rather stick my nose in a book then run laps. I did manage to end the American Legion baseball season one year batting 250. During the season I batted eight times, walking 4 times, striking out 3 times and accidentally hitting the ball between first and second for a lucky single the other time. To say the least Dennis received a lot of attention during high school while I was ignored. I can understand how Joseph must have felt and still feels when it comes to Christmas. During Christmas a lot of attention is focused not only on the baby in the manger but also Mary, the angels, shepherds and wise men. But Joseph standing in the background, ignored. The role he played was a minor one. Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy list. Thirty-nine times Matthew uses the active form of the word “to beget” translated as “become father of”. But the last time when the genealogy came to Joseph the active verb becomes passive to remind us that Joseph played no role in Jesus conception. Matthew story of Jesus birth however has a surprising ending. Joseph takes a leap of faith and rather than divorcing his pregnant wife (the right thing to do in his society) takes her as his wife and claims her child by naming him. Today we have genetic testing that can determine the father of a child. When Jesus was born the law based paternity on a man’s acknowledgement of the child. Joseph exercised the father’s right to name the child and became the legal father of Mary’s child. Certainly Joseph’s response was as much an act of faith as Mary’s statement to the angel “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” Luke 1:38 (NRSV). So this year when we focus on the manger scene don’t forget about Joseph standing in the background. Remember that he too was a man of faith who did what God commanded him to do.