I stumbled across a painting recently by 19th century French artist James Tissot called The Anxiety of Joseph. Joseph is shown in his small carpenters shop with tools surrounding him and curled wood shavings gathered around his feet.
The windows of his shop look out on the bustling streets of Nazareth, where the townspeople are going about their business. But in the midst of that busy scene, the ordinarily industrious carpenter leans over his bench, lost in thought and unable to work.
I love this rendering of Joseph because it is so real. The Biblical story devotes such little ink to Joseph that we sometimes gloss over his part in the story.
Think about what Joseph went through in the days before Jesus birth. He had woken up one day to find his life wrecked: his wife pregnant, his heart broken, his trust betrayed, his name ruined, his future revoked. He was a good man caught in a really tough place. What was he to do?
He could have gone public with Marys apparent betrayal or broken off the engagement quietly. But an angel appeared with another option: Marry her. Adopt the child. Take part in Gods plan. And when he awoke from his dream, he knew the right thing to do.
Dont we all just want to do the right thing? You desperately try to be a good parent, but how do you balance discipline and grace? Or you find yourself in a sticky situation at work. You know your boss is doing something that seems unethical. Do you speak up, resign quietly or mind your own business?
Do you invite your ex-husband to Christmas dinner so that your children will spend time with their father on Christmas at the risk of making things awkward or disrupting the peace?
You want to help the poor man holding the will work for food sign at the interstate exit, but you fear that your handout will enable him. What do you do? We just want to do the right thing.
Joseph did not imagine fatherhood as an option. He didnt see how he could fit into this family, with Mary and the child of someone else. But Joseph listened to Gods voice, and he opened himself to Gods possibilities. He let his sense of right and wrong give way to Gods. And somewhere along the way he realized that if this Messiah is to be born the Son of David as the scriptures say, Joseph was the man the child must be born to. So Joseph took the right way -- the way of love.
Preacher Fred Craddock put it this way: The baby is not born yet; Mary is not even in labor, but it is Christmas already because of Joseph. ... When you have somebody like that, it is already Christmas, and Christmas will last as long as God can find in every community one person who says, I will do what is right.
May each of us be that person, and may Christmas last all year long.
The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.