Joseph's Story: No Longer a Secret
- 2004 9 Dec
Do you like secrets? I've never cared much for them myself. Not that I can't keep a secret, mind you. But I'm a simple, upfront type of man, a carpenter by trade. What you see is what you get. If I scratched the finish on your favorite chair I'd either fix it or knock down the cost of my work. You'd get a square deal from me. I have nothing to hide from anyone.
But there was a time, a good long stretch of time, when I was forced to keep a secret by necessity. But now that the news is out, nothing can hold me back from telling the story.
It began when I was just a young man, struggling to keep my father's carpentry business going in Nazareth, my hometown. They were difficult days, but exciting days, full of long hours of hard work and late nights with friends, talking about the things young single men talk about.
And Mary. My life was full of thoughts of Mary, the pretty young woman that I was to wed. I was so excited! Like every young groom, my feelings were mixed with eagerness and anxiety, and with just a pinch of doubt. Marriage is no small thing! I dreamed of the intimate times yet to be shared, and of raising a typical, large Jewish family, and of the many peaceful years together in Nazareth. Those were pleasant dreams.
Those dreams came crashing down one day, and most dreadful day of my life. I remember it so clearly. I was working in the shop, putting the finishing touches on an oak table, when Mary's father came in. I could tell in an instant that something was wrong. Anger burned in his eyes, and his voice showed obvious restraint. "Joseph," he said softly but firmly, "bring your parents and come to my home at sundown tonight." For a long moment, his eyes pierced mine with a strange look of hurt, anger, and doubt.
"We'll be there," I answered, with a noticeable crack in my voice. As Mary's father left the shop, my mind began to race. What could possibly be so serious? Was it Mary's health? Had I done something to offend the family? The day dragged slowly by, as I tried to keep my mind on my work and off of that mysterious visit from Mary's father. My curiosity had run wild, and I confess, I was expecting what I thought was the worst possible scenario. Mary's father was certainly going to break off the engagement. I wasn't good enough for her.
As it turned out, my worst-case scenario would have been much less shocking. When we entered the home of Mary's father, we received a cool but polite welcome. Mary's mother left the room to call her daughter, and when they returned together, it was evident that Mary had been crying. Then we all sat down, with the light of the lantern flickering and bouncing on the walls of that humble house. Mary's father began, "Joseph, it is imperative that we all be candid with one another." His voice began to shake, seemingly from self-restraint. "Joseph, Mary is with child."
I felt like a bomb had gone off in my head! A moment of shock was followed by deep, penetrating pangs in my chest. My puzzled gaze followed the wall to where Mary sat, her face lowered in shame. Had she betrayed me? Sweet precious Mary?
Her father began talking rapidly about plans to send her away to her aunt Elizabeth in Judah where the child could be born secretly. I nodded my head in agreement, barely hearing a word. My mind was in a fog and my heart was numb and heavy. But when Mary's father began talking about my moving to Judah to be a father to the child, I quickly grew defensive. Before considering the way it might make Mary look, I blurted out, "But I am not the child's father!"
My mother was the first to respond. "Joseph, are you not man enough to face up to your own mistake?"
Finally, Mary spoke. "He tells the truth." Every eye turned to Mary for explanation, and she began to spin a tale that, I confess, sounded so far-fetched that I began to doubt her mental stability. "I am with child," began Mary. "For an angel of the Lord has foretold it. I am to bear a child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, who is to be called the Son the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever. Please believe me! I don't fully understand it, but I was told by an angel!"
Her father replied gruffly, "You can tell your tale to Aunt Elizabeth when you get there. Now go quickly and begin packing your bags."
"But I have told Aunt Elizabeth!" cried Mary. "And she believes me! In fact, she says that her miracle child is also a sign from God. And she says that it leaped in her womb when I visited her last month! And she called me 'mother of my Lord!'"
By this time I was thoroughly confused. My head was swimming, weighing the options as we walked home. While I wanted to believe Mary, my male logic had convinced me that Mary was simply distraught and very confused. I fell asleep that night having determined that we should take her away to Judah.
Then came the dream. Oh, how often I doubted the validity of that dream, but now, of course, I know it was the real thing. As I slept, I began to sense a presence around me, and though my eyes were shut tight, the room became bright around me. To this day, I don't know if I was awake or asleep, but it was real either way. A voice from the bright figure before me said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
I awoke the next morning knowing exactly what to do. I went through with my betrothal to Mary, I stood by her through the entire pregnancy, and well, you know much of the rest of the story. You've probably heard about our grueling journey to Bethlehem, and about our futile efforts to find lodging for the night. And you've heard about that rustic, damp stable, with animals all around, witnessing the birth of the King. And I know the word has gotten out about the shepherds, and their story of the angel choir. And, of course, the kings from the eastern lands, who traveled hundreds of miles to pay homage to the newborn King.
But there's more you don't know! You don't know what it was like having to live with such a marvelous secret for thirty years. You don't know what it was like to hear the other fathers brag about their sons as if they were God's gift to humanity, all the while knowing that my son was God's gift to humanity!
And you don't know what it was like trying to be a father to a boy that was to be the king of all. Did I have authority over him, or did He have authority over me? Perhaps I was just a steward, a caretaker, of a great secret; like the guardian of a great treasure waiting to be opened at just the right time and on just the right day?
And remember what I told you at the beginning? I don't much like to keep secrets. Can you imagine what it was like to live my entire adult life knowing that my son was to be the King of the Jews, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world; and then, to live all of those years without being able to tell anyone? I couldn't tell anyone about my dream. I couldn't tell anyone about Mary's dream, or about Elizabeth's words, or about the shepherd's story, or about the wise men. I couldn't tell anyone about Anna the prophetess or about the words of Simeon at the temple. I couldn't tell anyone about the strange small boy. And I couldn't even tell anyone that he was really not my son, but rather the Son of God.
My friends, can you imagine what it would be like to go to the grave with such a secret, never having the privilege of blurting out the news for my family, my friends, and everyone else to know?
You are the Voice
No, you can't imagine. Why? Because you have that privilege, one that I longed for like the air I breathed. You, my friends, can be my voice, my messengers, my loudspeakers. You can tell the story that I could never tell. It's no longer a secret! All the world must know! Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the Chosen One, sent to save the world from its sins and bring the promise of eternal life.
You have the privilege of proclaiming the best news that the world has ever received. Please! Don't keep it a secret. Let the world know that the little child born of Mary, in that cold, worn stable, truly was, and still is, the King of Kings. It's no longer a secret.
Keith Potter is a published author and senior pastor of Saratoga Federated Church in Los Gatos, California.