Joseph had a problem. He was hanging around a woman who got pregnant outside of marriage. Now the stigma of that situation is not as great now-a-days, but not too long ago we know that even in our society that would warrant communal scorn. In the time of Christ, the issue was even greater.
Ultimately, Mary really had no choice but to accept the baby that was growing inside her. She sought understanding; lamented the difficult life this child would have; and had the typical mother feelings. She could have abandoned the child, as was common practice, but obviously chose not to via the guidance from the angels, so you could say that she was the first to accept Christ. But Joseph really had every incentive to abandon Mary.
Though he is not even mentioned in two of the Gospels, his role is a crucial part in the Nativity story because he chooses to stay. Though it was through a dream, he accepts that what the angels are telling him to be from God. By accepting Christ to be the Son of God, and staying with Mary, even marrying her, he risks his life and livelihood. At that point, whatever aspirations Joseph might have had were forever changed. And though with initial reluctance, Joseph embraced his new wife and child to create the Holy family.
One of the hardest parts of the Christmas narrative is that because our society has changed so much from the time of Christ we miss the gravity of the situations that are presented. This disconnect often lessens the distress of what is going on and the importance of the choices that are made. One of the images that Matthew brings up over and over again is that the choice to accept Christ is not one of convenience or for a better life; rather, it is to give up your own life and live into something more.
When we celebrate the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love we do so fully understanding that those emotions all result from a difficult decision to live into a new reality in Christ. It is such a difficult decision we often find ourselves in need making it over and over again. This means that after we give up our former ways, we are often drawn back to the needs of this world. This means that we are constantly working towards the promise of a glorious life with Christ.
This choice is not easy and comes with great tension, living with one foot in the reality and judgments of this world and another with God. However, the choice that we make to follow God though Christ is to accept that as difficult as our decision is to make to follow Christ, the glory we will experience is far more powerful and complete in the end.
As we think about Joseph, and the choice he had to make to accept his son, we must always remember that though it would have been easy for him to choose another path, he did not. Just as it is easy for us to choose a direction that takes us away from Christ, we must remember that when we live for Christ we give ourselves over to a new Glory and new reality rooted in the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of Christ.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen