I think by now it’s kind of a tradition for me to post a little Christmas retelling around the 25th, right? 😉 (You can read my previous stories here and here.) This time I wrote a short story from Joseph’s point of view. Joseph seems to get overlooked, despite the difficult and important role he played in Jesus’ birth and life, so I wanted to highlight him for once.
Of course, although this is based on one of the greatest true stories in history, I added a lot of details from my imagination, using bits I learned from the sermon last Sunday, the story of Joseph in Matthew 1 + Jesus’ birth in Luke 2, and just general knowledge I have collected from past Christmas story research. 🙂
I hope you enjoy this little story about the incredible miracle:
“Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man; stooping so low, but sinners raising heavenwards by thine eternal plan.”– “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor
WHAM! WHAM! Thunk. There, the last nail was in place.
“I’ve finished the manger for Eleazar, father,” the young carpenter called across the cluttered workshop. “I’ll start on Simon’s order unless you need me for something else, yes?”
Jacob looked up from a pile of sawdust shavings and nodded his head. “Good. Yes, go ahead. Best to finish it before the evening meal if you can.”
Joseph whistled agreement over the noise of his father’s saw and dusted the manger off proudly. A humble piece of work, no doubt, but the lines were strong and true – it didn’t wobble a bit as he set it on the ground. That’s why I like carpentry, Joseph thought to himself. There’s nothing more satisfying than building something perfect squared off. Too bad life can’t be as straight as that manger leg.
He sighed, a pretty young face appearing in his mind for the millionth time. He still couldn’t unravel the secret those frightened eyes and tight lips were hiding. His betrothed wife had left suddenly to visit her elderly cousin three months ago, and Mary’s worried features during their farewell had betrayed her joy at Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy. Joseph knew Mary too well not to be anxious – she wouldn’t hide something from him unless there was good reason. Whatever it was, he could certainly handle it if she would just come back home and tell him.
At least he had things to keep him busy meantime. Or he would if- “Father? Where are those beams we cut for Simon the other day?”
Jacob ran thick fingers through his dusty hair. “Some Romans bought them this morning. They needed more wood for crosses – lots of crucifixions coming up. Go get the logs from the shed, and see that you stop interrupting me or I’ll never finish this table!”
“Yes, Father,” Joseph dipped his head sheepishly and was sauntering out the door to the shed when a small figure emerged from the shadows.
“MARY! You’re back!” Thank you, Lord! He moved to tackle her in a hug, but Mary put a finger on her lips.
“Shh, he’ll hear you! Joseph, I… have to tell you something. Something important. Can we talk ?”
Why so urgent? Not even a “shalom” to her betrothed? “I’ll just clear it with Father. Or wait, he’s not in the mood for interruptions. He can spare me for a minute, I’m sure.”
His heart constricted at her tight smile, but he led her to a corner under the fig tree. Why did she keep resting her hand on her stomach like that? “Are you feeling all right, dear?”
Mary closed her eyes. “Am I feeling all right? Oh, Joseph, how can I be feeling all right when I’m about to tear us apart?”
Joseph was really worried now. “What do you mean, tear us apart? We’re betrothed, love. Practically married! The only way we can be separated is if we get a divorce, and that would only happen if…” His eyes fell to the lithe hand resting unconsciously on her stomach, which seemed… larger than usual.
“Wait.” His voice was just a whisper. “No. No, no, no, no, no.”
“I’m pregnant, Joseph.”
Must be a dream… he’d thought too much about her lately; his mind was going mad. He was drowning in those deep brown eyes, a whirlpool of fear and pride and love and heartbreak. Drowning, drowning… must be a dream. Can’t be… Can’t be…
What had she done? What was that frightened face planning before she left? Why didn’t he stop her? What had happened on that trip? Is that why she took so long to return? But why did she return now? Who was the… the father? I’m going to stone him for doing this!
He didn’t realize he’d spoken the last two sentences aloud until he heard her reply, unsettlingly calm in the chaos of his mind. “You can’t stone him, dear, because no one can hurt the Almighty. The Spirit is the father of this little one. Joseph, oh Joseph,” those eyes! so beautiful, shining now with awe and tenderness, “the Lord has chosen me to bear the Messiah.”
For all that thinking he was dreaming, he certainly couldn’t fall asleep tonight. Or the past several nights, for that matter.
Mary’s secret didn’t stay a secret long – his father had eventually strode out to see what was taking Joseph so long, and… that hadn’t gone well. Mary’s family wasn’t any more excited about her return than his family was, and now they were both at war: Joseph’s household flung blame at Mary and Mary’s family flung it back at Joseph.
The once friendly thoroughfare between them had been barricaded, and this wall of Jericho couldn’t be conquered by walking around it. Joseph had to face this thing head-on. As much as he trusted Mary, how could he ever believe that story about the Spirit and the Messiah? God hadn’t spoken to his people for 400 years, and now he would send an angel to a girl?
But… if he didn’t make a decision soon, the news would really get out, and they would be law-bound stone Mary to death for her unfaithfulness. Joseph buried his face in the pillow to drive out an image of himself throwing rocks at the young woman he loved most.
But what else could he do? Marry her and live with crushing shame and disownment for the rest of his life? How could Mary’s family not think he was the father, the sinner behind all this, if he married her now to cover up the affair instead of addressing it? He couldn’t live with that. He was Joseph, the son of Jacob, descendant of the great King David! And a man had to keep his reputation.
Besides, he was not only a good man, he was a just man. He had always done his duty pertaining to the law and sacrifices, or at least as best as the Lord enabled him. The law was important to him, as it should be. It was like a straight line, a ruled piece of wood, a square. Right or wrong. And he had always been right. How could he purposely cut a crooked line?
So he wanted to obey the law, but he didn’t want to shame Mary. Think, Joseph, think. And his own words rushed back to him: “The only way we can be separated is if we get a divorce.”
That was it, then. He would divorce her quietly. No one would refuse his request. And then he would have his honor and Mary would have her life, at least for now. That was all a just man could be expected to do.
The debate played over and over in his head until somehow, the knot in his stomach loosened enough for him to fall asleep.
And then he wished he hadn’t.
“JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID!”
Could a mind be blinded? His eyes burned behind closed lids as an angel – an angel?! – exploded into his dreams. He would have fallen flat on his face if he wasn’t already on his back in bed. As it was, his whole self practically shattered with terror. Is this what Mary felt like when the angel Gabriel spoke to her? As if the angel read his mind (what was he thinking? The angel was IN his mind!) the thundering words spoke again:
“Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” So she was telling the truth after all. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The Messiah? The Messiah! Immanuel is growing inside my betrothed wife? I’m going to help raise the SAVIOR?
And then the angel disappeared and darkness returned. All other dreams fled until morning, when sun touched his eyelids and a scorching memory filled his mind. Joseph sat up abruptly as the vision rushed back.
“Well, I guess that settles it, then.” No matter about the dishonor. No matter that his life was about to be ruined. Mary needed him, and that was that.
He’d been sure the overwhelming gratefulness and adoration in Mary’s eyes would fuel him through any trial that arose from his decision to stay by her side. But that belief was tested strongly in the coming days. Insults, narrowed eyes, scoffing looks, and angry arguments pierced him like a warrior’s arrows.
And then the census, which had to happen right before Mary was about to give birth. That long journey, alone in the crowd. And that innkeeper… those people in Bethlehem, so heartless! So condescending! No room in the inn for a girl with labor pains? And that drafty stable with a manger so poorly constructed it nearly toppled when he brushed it?
Joseph shoved the feeding trough out of the way in frustration. He wanted to build a better one, wanted to build a warm house over his laboring Mary, wanted to build something, do something to take away her pain. He wanted to…
And then Mary gasped and he heard a thin wail. Joseph let go of her sweating palm and reached a bloody hand into the slick, wet straw. His whole body shook as he picked up the warm bundle from the floor and wiped away the filth from the tiny, crying face.
He. Was. Holding. Messiah.
He was holding God made man.
The Savior was sobbing in his arms.
He wrapped Mary’s weary fingers around her little one, their tears washing over the wiggling body of their tiny baby boy. Joseph spread his arms around his little family, heart swelling with pride and love for this young mother who never gave up. He would never give up on her, God help him. God help us.
Mary clung to Joseph, weeping into his strong shoulders. “Oh, Joseph, I love you, I love you. Let me teach our son to be as selfless as you are. Oh, Joseph, look at your beautiful baby boy!”
Only the child’s Heavenly Father knew how selfless that son would be. Only He knew how infinitely more compassionate Jesus would be than Joseph, laying down not only his honor, but his life for people more filthy in their sins before God than the baby’s blood-caked body which, though holding the spotless soul of God, would one day be streaming with blood once again as he poured out his righteousness like living water upon a dying world.
Only God knew, for now. One day they would be torn apart as the world was put back together, but for now, the young couple bent over a poorly-crafted manger in the dark of a drafty stable, and their faces shone with joy.
Immanuel was born and God was with them, filling crooked wood and broken people with light in the darkness.