This morning’s service at our church centred on the person of Joseph and the role he played in, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was in the age-bracket to be picked for a part in the Nativity play at school, (or at Brownies), I never once wished to be picked to play Joseph – and don’t get the idea that I didn’t want to play him because I was a girl, because in our Brownie pack we didn’t have any boys, and I once played Melchior, (or whichever King it was that brought the Frankincense). I knew I was unlikely ever to play Mary, because hers was a role reserved for the prettiest and daintiest of young ladies – but I really did long to be the Archangel Gabriel. The lure of a long white dress, tinsel halo and wings drew me like a magnet, but alas, it was not to be. Oh, I did make it to the angel chorus, so I did get the white dress and tinsel, but times were obviously hard and only the Archangel Gabriel had the wings, the rest of us remained grounded little cherubs. Most often, I was picked to make up the numbers with the shepherds – the perfect place, some might think, for a robust little hellion… So, why not Joseph then? Well, I never thought it was much of a part really. All he had to do was lead the donkey and just stand there while all the ‘real’ action went on around him; just a bit-player in the marvellous drama taking place all around him. Many, many years on I can see that this image of Joseph is ill-conceived to say the least. Far from being a bit-player, Joseph is at the centre of events.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the first chapter is a genealogy that proves Jesus to be part of the Royal House of David. Jesus is descended from Israel’s greatest leader and is destined to an even greater King than David himself. The genealogy ends then with, “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Matthew 1:16
Fair enough; but, wait a minute, wasn’t Mary’s baby a result of being ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit, rather than an ordinary, human conception? Matthew certainly says so a few verses on. He tells us how Joseph was prepared to divorce Mary quietly, until an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him not to be afraid; to take Mary as his wife and claim the child as his own.
The angel tells Joseph that he is to be the one to name the child. This is meaningful. For Joseph to personally name the child, is to acknowledge him as his own – a legal adoption. Therefore, Jesus becomes the legitimate heir of Joseph, and through his line, heir to the promises of David, his ancestor.
Matthew’s Gospel points to Jesus as Messiah and fulfilment of ancient prophesy. Joseph’s part in the story is an important one, since it is through him that Jesus is seen to be of David’s royal line. If I’d understood it better all those years ago, maybe I’d have pestered Brown Owl to play Joseph – and I’d have got to wear a beard as well as a long dress!