The “awkwardness” of Joseph

In Diary of a Pastor’s Soul, M. Craig Barnes reflects on the “awkward” role of Joseph in the Gospel.

In Matthew’s story, Joseph works to stay in the background. He “wants to marry his Mary, pay his taxes and settle into the quiet life of a village carpenter. He is not the star of the story — doesn’t want to be. He follows the instructions of the angel in the dream, becoming part of a scandal that was never his idea.”

In most school and church Christmas pageants, Barnes notes, “the director of the pageant never has trouble finding a girl who wants to be Mary. In fact, it’s actually rather competitive. And the cool guys vie for one of the wise men roles . . . [B]ut I’m wondering if the key to the whole story is Joseph? What if none of us are supposed to be the star of the drama? And unlike the shepherds, we can’t just go back to the sheep after beholding the child on this holy night. What if the Christmas angels are trying to tell us that the life we are expecting is not what we’re going to live, but this is actually for our salvation? And if we read ahead a bit in the drama, we’ll discover that like Joseph we should settle into being confused and out of the loop when God is making decisions . . . ”

Maybe the key to understanding Christmas, Barnes wonders, is that we, too, are as “awkward as Joseph.”

“Most of us are worn out on our own plans for life. And we’re ready to hear about a more interesting story than we can write for ourselves even if we don’t really understand it . . . that’s always been the dream of Christmas . . . the confusing dream that outlives us is really all we need.”

Today’s Gospel is not Luke’s beloved story of Jesus’ birth in a Bethlehem stable but Matthew’s unsettling tale of a good man confronting a painful situation. But Joseph possesses the generosity of heart to continue to love Mary and, in Joseph’s “righteousness,” the Spirit of God brings about humankind’s salvation. To really “get” Christmas, we have to approach Jesus’ birth with the “awkwardness” of Joseph. We have to put aside the idea that we are the “stars” of our own Christmas, that Christmas somehow has to “fit” our lives and expectations. As Joseph discovers, Christmas should form us; Christmas should shape our lives; Christmas should recreate us in the love of God that dawns in the birth of his Christ.