If you think about it, Joseph shouldn’t be that important.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, after all, not the son of Joseph. Jesus is born to Mary before Mary and Joseph ever consummate their marriage. Almost proving the point is Joseph’s absence from the gospels after the birth stories; while we see Mary following Jesus all the way to the cross, Joseph is just a biographical footnote (Luke 4:22).
Joseph shouldn’t matter at all… and yet he does.
Take the first 17 verses of Matthew. Which, I realize, you have probably skipped over. I totally get that; they’re boring. But take a look at that long list of names in the genealogy of Jesus Christ; follow that family tree all the way out onto its last branch. You might be surprised to find the name that Jesus’s newborn leaf is hanging from: not Mary, but Joseph.
Having traced Jesus’ lineage from Abraham to Joseph, Matthew begins his story in earnest. He explains that Mary is pregnant – not in a scandalous way from adultery, but in a miraculous way from the Holy Spirit. Then Matthew leaves Mary and focuses us again on Joseph, telling us about his reaction, his dream, his ultimate decision.
Why? If Jesus’ daddy is God, then what’s so important about Joseph?
I’ll tell you what’s important: he is the adoptive earthly father of the Son of God.
In the dream, the angel tells him to do two things that give him this status: marry the girl and name the baby.
Marrying the girl means accepting Mary at great price. Engagement was a binding arrangement in first-century Palestine. Money had changed hands. Promises had been made. Years of waiting were already underway.
Having sex outside of this arrangement was adultery. It was embarrassing for Joseph. It was also a death sentence for Mary – literally (see Deuteronomy 2:23-27). To “dismiss her quietly” and save her life, Joseph would have to relinquish the bride price his family had already paid. Joseph, miraculously, was already willing to do that. Now he’s asked to go even further, to accept his fiancée, baby and all.
Joseph takes the way of grace and faith. As Genesis 2:24 puts it, he left his mother and father became “one flesh” with Mary.
Joseph marries the girl, but he’s not done yet. He still needs to name the baby.
This may be a bigger deal than it seems. Naming the baby wasn’t just filling out paperwork and getting a Social Security number. When a man named a baby, it was to officially accept the child as his. It was claiming this newborn as part of his family tree.
I imagine Joseph holding his wife’s baby in his arms for the first time. Maybe for an instant he remembers how he felt when he first found out she was pregnant: anger, hurt, brokenness. But those feelings are just a flash in the pan; they are there and then gone because different feelings immediately surround this infant: mercy, healing, hope. Joseph takes a deep breath and says the words that will make this child his:
“I name him Jesus.”
Joseph adopts the Son of God.
Is this love any less than if Joseph had been Jesus’ biological father? Ask any adoptive parent that question, and you won’t hear a beat of hesitation. The love of an adoptive mother or father is every bit as fierce, every bit as strong, every bit as everlasting as a birth-parent’s love. With every one that I know, it didn’t take a few months for the kid to grow on them; it was instant. I have a friend who adopted a beautiful boy from Ethiopia, and that parental love came on her across continents months before they even met him face-to-face. Another adoptive mom I know has a poem framed and hanging in her house to describe how it feels:
“Not flesh of my flesh,
nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own…”
Joseph may not be Jesus’ biological father. He may have died and disappeared from the narrative before Jesus’ ministry really began. But don’t dismiss him. Don’t write him off. Joseph chose to adopt Jesus as his own at great personal cost.
Doesn’t that sound somewhat familiar?
Joseph chose to adopt Jesus as his own at great personal cost.
This is important.
If we truly appreciate Joseph’s love for the child that he didn’t conceive but did name, then we can begin to appreciate God’s great love for us.
Friends, most of us not natural to this family tree. I am not a biological descendant of Abraham. I am not an Israelite. And yet we who would have been left out have been adopted as God’s own at great personal cost.
If you feel like you are no one’s child, you need to know: you are God’s child. At your baptism, your name was said aloud and that naming event claimed you. If you haven’t been baptized, then God is waiting to say your name, waiting and ready like a parent who loves her child long before the adoption papers are signed.
God’s love for you is as fierce, as strong, as everlasting as the love of an adoptive parent.
You are God’s adopted child.