I remember aged 10 being asked to play Joseph in the Church nativity in Eastbourne, evidently this was a real honour as the other kids in Sunday School had had to go through all the other parts before they got their chance for the two main roles (I was the new Vicars kid and had usurped the top job).
Yet I came back from my first rehersal pretty deflated “he doesn’t do ANYTHING!” I moaned. He just stands there! At that time Margaret ‘Milk Snatcher’ Thatcher was in office, and her unfortunate husband Dennis had to work out how to be a PM’s spouse.
Joseph was a non event in my dramatic life as a child thespian(!), he just stood there.
Yet, I have come to really appreciate this “unsung hero” of the nativity story recently, mainly because he does just stand there.
Let’s take a moment to look at this from Jewish eyes, he marries his betrothed (and I think he really loves her, but maybe I’m just an old romantic!) despite the scandal and the shame, he cares for her, marries her and stands by her, out of what I believe is both divine obedience, being a good man and perhaps a deep love for Mary (the old romantic rears his head again). He probably heard peoples’ whispers, saw their judgemental looks and was aware of their spitefulness. Yet he stood loyally by his wife.
Mary is, rightly, given centre stage in the birth narratives, but Joseph is there, and perhaps his role was there as a support, friend and protector for his wife and her baby, the step dad to God incarnate. His role may not have had many lines dedicated to it in scripture.
Yet “just being there” is a massive think, I have mixed views about Mary –on one level I think “what an amazing woman of God” and on other level I think “poor kid!”- and think as she does something incredible, give birth to God and raise a child, having someone whose “there” is really important. I thought that if the disciples were sent out in pairs to do the work of the Kingdom then this is one of those Kingdom moments where God in his goodness and love sent her someone to be with her.
Anyone who has been engaged in messy church stuff, or challenging mission contexts and just the crap life can throw at you knowing the awesome power of someone who is prepared to stand by you is beyond value.
I remember a sermon of my dads –rather bizarrely on Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest (as you do!)- and his challenge was saying: “You might not feel like a Zerubbabel, but for someone you could be a Joshua” –there are times and context where I have thought “is this more a Joshua role (supporting someone else)” and times when I have felt like Zerubbabel (called to do something that I felt daunted by).
The call to be a support, to come alongside, to be there, to encourage and to stand with made me think. My mind went to my mum, who is something of a Joseph character; loyal, kind and an incredibly Godly person but allows someone else –normally my dad whose a Vicar/preacher mainly- to take the more visible role, but without her loyalty, presence, wisdom, support, love and care would he have been able to have faithfully told people about Jesus as fruitfully as he has for the past four –nearly five- decades. Would my dad’s incredible ministry being anything like as fruitful without the strength and (behind the scenes) wisdom and prayer helping him, I think probably not. Is she noticed and thanked –I loose count of the number of times people say “we loved your dad” so much so that I now say (being bitter and twisted but that’s another blog) something about “yeah my parents go the extra-mile” –why in the Christian world do we only eve seem to notice the person with the microphone and not the person praying, cooking, serving, helping with the kids…. (Grrr, rant over!)
I believe the world, and especially our churches, are filled with unsung heroes, faithfully working under the radar. I was thinking about my life in my late teens where much of me staying safe and not ending up in real and deep trouble due to my habitual foolishness was probably down to a wonderful array of saints who prayed for me regularly, probably with my human eyes their impact on my life seems almost invisible but with spiritual eyes I owe these grey haired saints a debt I can never repay.
Perhaps having been young and energetic I fear maybe I have got used to thinking “its all about me” wanting to be Mary (the main character) rather than Joseph (the bit part), maybe I need to learn to stand back and support other people through the births of their visions, achievements and victories.
Later on Jesus meets his cousin John the Baptist, who says “I must decrease so he (Jesus) must increase”.
Shane Claiborne says “everyone wants revolution but no one wants to do the washing up!” in a world where everyone wants to be number one, maybe there is a call to be a number two?!
What of us, do we want to rush in and make everything all about us, are we always wanting to be centre of attention? Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Joseph, who is prepared to be a background character in scripture, but a forefront character in the life of Jesus. Faithfully serving even if it was unglamorous and out of sight.