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Thinking of Joseph

December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas Eve!

I slept with my Christmas lights on last night and it was beautiful to wake up early to an deep indigo sky and a softly lit apartment. I just finished my morning yoga and am now drinking hot tea as I spend my morning writing and reading before heading off for two days of family festivities.

I have been thinking a lot about Joseph this Christmas season. Last year, I wrote about my respect for Mary and what it must have been like for her but this year, my heart has been pondering Joseph. Throughout my life, when I would picture the Nativity in my head, it was always moonlit, like a Christmas card, and was punctuated by the gentle bleats of sheep. Everyone was smiling and happy; no one was frightened or confused. I used to stare at the clay Nativity set that my parents had when I was a child and be amazed at the bulk and strength of Joseph, smiling down at baby Jesus. He was a papa, like my papa, and he was never afraid or struggling. He was a superhero in a robe.

Image from nytimes.com

Now I don’t know much about men but what I have learned in my short 25 years is that the traditional male sense of worth is very different than the traditional female sense. From what I understand (and please gentlemen, correct me if I am wrong), the traditional (or stereotypical, even) male sense of worth comes from what you do and provide. The identity of a man and a father manifests itself in work and what you can produce and teach.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been for Joseph, a respected Jewish man in a small community, to find out that his betrothed wife, Mary, was pregnant and he was not the father. In Jewish culture, if he decided to accuse her, she would be stoned to death by her own friends and family. If he decided not to accuse her, they both would be basically ejected from respectable Jewish society. By choosing to believe that she was with child from the Holy Spirit, he shattered his own reputation and invited scorn and cruel whispers behind his back. By choosing to stay with Mary and this child that was not even his own, he gave up everything.

I remember my father teaching me so much while I grew up and I am humbled by all he continues to teach me today. I learned how to throw a football, make cookies, find Bible verses, climb a tree, thread a fishing hook and so much more from him. What must it have been like for Joseph to look at Jesus as a boy, wondering if he even had anything to teach him? This child was Emmanuel, God incarnate. I wonder if Joseph felt foolish when he tried to teach Jesus how to use a hammer or showed him how to tie on his sandals. I wonder if Joseph held this baby in his arms and felt small and weak.

One of my favorite pictures of me and my dad (and my sister)...we are complete goofballs.

Andrew Peterson wrote the most beautiful song about the birth of Christ called “Labor of Love.” The words to this song quite literally take my breath away at times and there is a particular verse I want to share with you all:

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night
So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

I hear a deep sense of fear in these words. I don’t think I am wrong in saying that Joseph, while overcome by wonder and awe, looked at this child wrapped in rags and felt an overwhelming surge of fear. Would he be a good father to his own Father? When he first felt the weight of an infant in his arms, did he look in his eyes and realize that he would one day look in those eyes as they hung on a cross?

This Christmas, I think of Joseph and what it took to be the kind of man who allowed God to show him his worth and who stood by Mary even when it cost him everything. God didn’t choose a man whose masculinity dominated or controlled others; He chose a man whose humble strength protected and stood up for his wife and his family. Thank you to all you fathers, husbands and men out there for all that you do to be a man worth looking up to, a man like Joseph.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

LATER ADDITION: This episode of “This American Life” does a wonderful re-thinking on what Joseph went through. Give it (and the whole show) a listen.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Grandma Carr permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:13 am

    Caroline…Well said. We who are blessed to have had fathers who loved and nurtured us in the Lord have been given the wonder-filled gift of Eternity with the Father of us all. What an inheritance!! I’ve often said that if your Dad could be cloned, every woman would want him. Merry Christmas, darling. (sounds like a song?) Love….Grandma

  2. Sandra permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:41 am

    Darling,

    Although by no means am I a radical, but I do take heed of particular issues with respect to men and women.

    Now in my short 23 years, I know something about men. I also know something about people. I know that some men are more womanly and some women are more manly. I know that some fathers are more like mothers and vice versa.

    My issue is this: in saying that men find their identity in teaching and production is problematic because… that’s where I find MY identity, through my production and my teaching. Does this make me a man? Am I wild at heart? (I hope you are laughing right now).

    So where do women find their identities? Their biological ability to reproduce? homemaking? Caring for people? Being nurturing and gentle and loving? These aren’t bad things, but I just want to point out that men can find their identities in these things just as women can.

    This is a huge issue for me, actually, because my whole goal with my own education is to help women develop their identities through reading and writing, through their work. I have a difficult time believing that gender roles are so specific. I really don’t believe they are. I think that humans have a need to organize and codify what seems chaotic.

  3. Caroline permalink*
    December 24, 2009 11:43 am

    @ Grandma!

    It’s true…if my dad could be cloned, he’d be very popular. Merry Christmas, love you!

  4. Caroline permalink*
    December 24, 2009 11:47 am

    @ Sandra!

    You’re absolutely right, my dear. I suppose I tend to generalize within my own head, simply because I tend to fit the stereotypical “woman” mold. However, you are right to point out that not all women (or men) do.

    I think it can be a combination of the two — finding self and identity in work and in relationships. I think men and women find worth in a mixture of the two; I know I do. Perhaps some people go more in one direction than in another, like you, and I hope that this piece didn’t insinuate that there is anything wrong with that. (And I did laugh at the “wild at heart” bit. 🙂 )

    I suppose I think back to the cultural times of Mary and Joseph and see them as fitting into traditional male and female roles, simply because that was how it was. Thinking of them in those roles is how I came across these thoughts.

    It isn’t necessarily like that now though, for many people, I’m sure. I love that you work to help women find identity in writing and reading; I think we all need to pushed out of our boundaries. Keep doing it; it’s important.

    Love you, Sands. Thanks for always making me think. 🙂

  5. Frank permalink
    December 24, 2009 11:53 am

    I agree with Sandra to a degree,

    Certainly you’re no sexist, Caroline, but as I meet more and more people, I’m starting to wonder if there’s really anything behind these self-imposed male/female differences we’ve been taught since childhood. For me, one’s priorities are shaped more by one’s family than by one’s, uhm, parts.

    One of the great things about humans is that we’ve been able to break our animalistic, evolutionary traits. The desire to provide is (or should be) universal. I’m only bothering to post this comment at all because it would be easy for someone to take the “men provide, women nurture” reasoning and turn it into an excuse for any number of sexist, outdated remarks.

    Being brought up in a society telling clearly what was expected of me as a man, yet being raised with the sensibilities of a single mother and a community of loving aunts, I was taught both roles. As a child, I found these in conflict, now, I see how easily they fit together.

    Love you and can’t wait to see you!
    M. Frank

  6. Caroline permalink*
    December 24, 2009 12:06 pm

    @ Frank!

    How did I get so blessed with such wise friends? You also make some fantastic points. I do think there are holes and weaknesses to the traditional traits of men and women. (And I’m glad you don’t think I’m a sexist.)

    I like what you said that our priorities are more shaped by our families than our “parts.” I think that’s absolutely true. For you, growing up in an environment of women, I know you to be an incredibly loving person who boldly lives a role of both nurturing and provision. Like I said to Sandra, I think as we grow and move forward as humans, I think you are both right in saying that we are perhaps more of a mixture of the two than we thought previously.

    For Joseph, my guess was that he was pretty solidly cemented in the traditional male roles at that time in Jewish culture, which was really my point.

    I know my father, while definitely the “provider” type is also very loving and nurturing. He’s the one who bakes the cookies and mixes the martinis in our family. 🙂

    Thank you for your thoughts, M. Frank! Love you too and can’t wait for our PF Changs date!

  7. James permalink
    December 24, 2009 4:15 pm

    Hm. This got me thinking. I am not disagreeing with you here, just thinking out loud. You use the words worth and identity, but I am not sure I would relate these words to anything mentioned here. But maybe I am just thinking of it entirely wrong.

    When I think of my identity, I don’t really think of the fact that I am a brother, or a son, or teacher, writer, etc.
    When I think about identity, I think about “who am I?” When I ask this, I instantly think about what I stand for. The thoughts and ideas that go on in my head which are then reflected in my actions.
    And when I think of worth, I don’t think of work or production or providing at all. Or even nurturing.
    My sense of worth is inherent, else why would I bother continuing to live? The worth comes first, and then the doing, not the doing first, and then the worth.

    I man not even be speaking about the same thing here. I don’t know. I may have just confused myself =)

  8. February 12, 2010 3:49 am

    I just tried to grab the RSS Feed for your site but it is not properly showing up in Google Chrome. Does anyone have any ideas?

  9. Caroline permalink*
    February 12, 2010 8:36 pm

    @ Mickey!

    Here is the RSS feed for the blog: https://ohmysweetcarolina.wordpress.com/feed/

    I hope this works! Thank you so much for reading!

    Grace and peace,
    Caroline

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