As good Americans, we all know what Christmas is about: Santa Claus.
But for some folks — Christians primarily — Christmas is about Christ. Immanuel … God made flesh who came to earth to dwell with us. It’s about a baby in a manger. It’s about a young woman, essentially a girl, who became pregnant under suspicious circumstances. It’s about a manger, shepherds, a magnificent star and three wise men.
Is that all? Oh, and there was a father. Well, kind of.
His name was Joseph. He was informed in a dream that he should not fear; his virgin fiancee was pregnant with God’s baby. No sane man ever received such news. But in most tellings of the Christmas story, Joseph is something of a bit player. In most Nativity scenes, he stands aside quietly while the action goes on with the other players.
But it is not difficult to imagine the role he actually played, for it was indeed significant. And his participation required not just him, but his manhood. As it is often said, any man can father a child. But it is something altogether different to be a father to a child. Joseph was the latter.
I also think Joseph was as good man, stepping up and doing what was the right thing at the right time. Fortunately, we still see those kinds of men in our world. We see what men did on 9/11. What Capt. ”Sully” Sullenberger did with his airliner in the Hudson River. What George Washington and Abraham Lincoln did through their leadership. Fireman. Policemen. Soldiers. Good husbands and fathers. They deliver the goods and don’t whine about it.
This is what Joseph did:
• He stuck by Mary after the strange announcement of her pregnancy when his first instinct was to quietly bail.
• He stood strong against the vicious hail-like gossip raining down on him from family, friends and neighbors, we presume. The “God’s child” explanation surely did little to quell the chatter and was no-doubt received with winks, nods and eye-rolls.
• While in Bethlehem paying their taxes, Joseph was called on to break the news to his pregnant wife — probably more than once — that “there was no room at the inn.” He then had to convince her that a dirty manger was the best option among no other options.
• Joseph delivered a child that was not his.
• Joseph presented that Child to the world with joy and father pride.
• Joseph hid his wife and boy in Egypt to protect them from Herod’s massacre.
• Joseph worked to provide for the Child and his wife in every way: food, shelter, direction and protection.
•Joseph taught Jesus his trade of carpentry.
Fatherhood is central to the Christmas story. Of course, the broader story of the Son of God having a father — the Father — is central to it. But the story of the Son of Man having an earthly father is central to it, too. God chose His Son to be raised in an earthly family. As fathers, we are granted a profound honor to participate in something that is an earthly, physical representation of the very nature and character of God himself. And that is true even when we are doing such mundane things as changing diapers, wiping sticky faces or reminding our kids to clean their room, do their homework or take out the trash.
Fatherhood is a deeply divine and sacred thing.