Tag Archives: Holy Family

Joseph: The Quiet One in Back

Domenico di Pace Beccafumi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (2)

Overheard unpacking a nativity set one year when Joseph was misplaced, “You know, we really don’t need Joseph.  If we don’t find Joseph it wouldn’t matter.”


“You have to have Mary and you have to have Jesus, but Joseph isn’t necessary.”

I beg to differ.  Joseph is INCREDIBLY necessary. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Joseph. You can read the passages in which he is mentioned in a few minutes, but you can also paint quite a portrait of the man who raised Jesus.

Foremost, he was faithful. He was faithful to Mary and he was faithful to God.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ ” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. (Mat 1:18-24 NLT) 

It is easy to lose sight of what is remarkable when the story is so well known.  The way that Joseph remained present and committed is commendable.  In the special needs community it is also rare.  One of the advisors of my ministry is Steve Rhatigan, an attorney who helps families plan for the financial future of their children.  On our first meeting he shared with me that all too often the dads “check out” and moms raise their children solo. He helps families deal with the hard side of that reality.  What he told me wasn’t news.  I’m far too familiar with the statistics.

What about the example of Joseph? Joseph stayed when it was hard. Joseph stayed when the custom of his day was to leave. Joseph stayed and protected the family.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

 14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother,  15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” (Mat 2:13-15 NLT)

It would be nice to think it was easy for Joseph to do the right thing.  I doubt it was.  He fled his country with his family under fear of death. He eventually returned with them to Nazareth where there was likely small town gossip.  He parented an extraordinary child and it wasn’t easy. I wonder, where did Joseph find support?

Today, Jeff Davidson seeks to fill that gap for fathers.  He founded Rising Above Ministry and authored the book “No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches” about his journey as a special needs dad.  Realizing the unmet need for support for dads, he founded the “No More Vacant Dads” initiative.  This is a positive ministry with a mission to preserve, encourage and equip special needs dads. Still in the start-up phase, there is a long-term vision for coaching and mentoring.  You can learn more about Jeff’s ministry through GoodnightSuperman.com.

I see Jeff’s mission in ministry as equipping dads who have the heart of Joseph. Joseph was the nurturer, the equipper, the protector and the faithful follower of God. We need Joseph in the story. He is so much more than the quiet one in the back.

Father God, we thank you for the example of Joseph and for his faithfulness to you. It is so hard when times are challenging.  It is so tempting to walk away. Nurture fathers with your courage and strength. Help each parent, mothers and fathers alike, find the heart of Joseph.  Amen.

Photo: Domenico di Pace Beccafumi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Seeing the Face of Mary

Nativity scenes abound this time of year. I have them in my yard, my dining room and my living room. The Holy Family is so familiar, yet I would love to see the face of the real Mary in her hometown of Nazareth. You can see a lot in people’s faces, in their expressions, happiness, sadness, surprise.  What people feel is often “written all over their face.”  I wonder what was written all over the face of Mary? What can we learn from Mary that is relevant to us today?

We may feel like we know the face of Mary because she is well-represented in art. I marvel at the things that are surely wrong in much of it.

Fredrico Barocci_Annunciation [Public Domain] via WikiCommons

This painting by Italian painter Fredrico Barocci (1592-1596) depicts a serene and confident Mary. The angel Gabriel is looking up at her with great reverence.  This Mary is literate, reading a small prayer book. That is a bit problematic since bound books were not around when Mary carried Jesus. Literacy was not common in the time of Mary and literacy among woman even less so.  However, this Mary likes cats so I can’t help but like her for that.

Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This next painting by Rogier Van der  Weyden (1399-1401) includes a Mary that is rather well-to-do. She has some pretty fancy digs with the inlaid tile floor, lavish furnishings and a heavily draped canopy bed.  That is pretty surprising for the tiny, backwoods town of Nazareth where archeologists find that most folks of the day lived in caves carved into the soft stone of the hillside. No tiled mosaics there date to the time of Christ.  I can’t picture this uptown Mary handling the news from Joseph that the Grand Hyatt Bethlehem lost their reservation and they’d be sleeping in the stable.

To me, these Mary’s look too mature, too sophisticated, not to mention too Anglo.  So, what do we know about the face of Mary from the Bible?

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. (Luke 1: 26-27 NLT)

So we know that Mary is from Nazareth, a tiny Jewish town in Galilee.  Nazareth was not sophisticated place like the Gentile/Roman town that was nearby, Sepphoris. Folks passed Nazareth on way there.  Nazareth = Podunk, pop. 100.  Tiny and insignificant. Folks from there were considered hicks from the sticks. Thirty years later, Nathanael, a skeptic who was invited to hear Jesus speak, questioned, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  That’s where Mary lived.

We also know she was a virgin and she was engaged. The custom in her day was for arranged marriages. Father’s typically arranged marriages when daughters were very young, 13 or 14. Engagements usually lasted a year, but Mary would have been considered as good as married from the time her engagement was announced.   Had Joseph died before their marriage, she would have been considered a widow.

28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! ”  29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. (Luke 1:28-29 NLT)

Here the Bible tells us about the face of Mary. Mary was “confused and disturbed,” which also translates as “deeply distressed.”

Gabriel continues:

30 “Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to bless you!  31 You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus.  32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” 

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month.  37 For nothing is impossible with God.”  38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” And then the angel left. (Luke 1:30-38)

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Annunciation [Public Domain]. via WikiCommons

Maybe this is the face of Mary, painted by Henry Tanner in 1898. This Mary is a young girl of simple means. No books. No rich robes. No leaded glass window. This Mary isn’t serene and confident.  She isn’t meek and demure. This Mary is deeply confused and worried and nervous.  She is listening intently to God’s plan for her. She has reason to be worried.  Hers would be a high-risk pregnancy. In Mary’s time she could have been called an adulteress. According to Deut 22:23-24 the punishment is to be stoned to death. Confused and disturbed indeed!

Mary received news that she had found favor with God, and this is what God’s favor looks like? When we look at face the face of Mary we learn that sometimes what God calls us to do is hard.  Sometimes what God calls us to do derails our lives from what we planned.

Sound familiar? Life is all mapped out until that unexpected turn, that diagnosis, leaving us too feeling confused and disturbed. Mary was called to parent an extraordinary child. So were we, just a different kind of extraordinary.

I see one more thing in Mary’s face.  I see bravery.  Being brave doesn’t mean being without fear, being brave means saying yes despite the fear. Mary couldn’t see what lay ahead for her, and yet she replied, “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” (Luke 1:38 NLT)

What is God calling each of us to do that is hard? I’m pretty sure I know. Are we brave like Mary when God calls us to do something hard?  When we think we have everything planned out and our lives take an unexpected turn, does fear try to push its way in? When God looked past the fear on the face of Mary and into her heart, God saw a servant who is willing to say, “Yes.”

Often we hear about living after the example of Christ.  Perhaps we are also called to live after the example of Mary.

Holy God,

Find in each of us the heart of Mary.  We admit at times we are afraid. At times we are insecure and overwhelmed.  Mary was too.  There is no shame in fear, but those are the times when we need to feel your presence the closest.  Help us to trust you with willing hearts.  Amen.


Fredrico Barocci,  Annunciation [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Rogier van der Weyden, Annunciation  [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation [Public Domain]. via Wikimedia Commons