The Unsung Hero of Christmas

by Pastor Emmanuel Ilagan


For a long time Joseph has been marginalized and presented as a mere background character in the Christmas story.

Joseph was Mary’s betrothed. In ancient Jewish society, betrothal consisted of two phases. First, the families of the boy and girl agreed that the two would be married at some future time when the couple reached the desired age.Then the boy and the girl — now a man and a woman – entered into a binding agreement in the presence of witnesses. This was a formal contract and could be rescinded only by a certificate of divorce. This betrothal phase lasted for about a year as preparations were made for the formal wedding. The couple were considered “husband” and “wife” but did not live together yet.

Thus,Joseph must have been shocked when he learned that Mary was already with Child before the wedding. This was an act of adultery and Joseph realized the gravity of the responsibility thrust upon him. Mary’s life and future and those of the Child in her womb literally depended on him.

He could swallow his self-respect and pride and proceed with the wedding. Or he could prosecute Mary for her adultery and clear himself of shame. Mary would carry this stigma for the rest of her life; that is, if she is not stoned to death.

Joseph had faith in God, loved Mary and was a kind man. He therefore planned to just quietly divorce Mary in front of two witnesses,and move on with his life.

But God sent a message to Joseph in a dream, explaining that what was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Joseph was to call the Child “Jesus” for He will save the people from their sins. Joseph would stand as the Child’s legal father and connect Him to the royal lineage of David. Joseph trusted God and obeyed and took Mary as his wife.

But the newborn Child was not safe yet. Threatened by news of a newborn king the paranoid Herod sent out soldiers to kill Jesus. God through a dream told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and seek refuge in Egypt, until the death threat had passed. Again,the life of Mary and Jesus depended on Joseph; but Joseph trusted God and obeyed.

God took the risk of entrusting Mary and her Child to Joseph, a simple Jewish carpenter. Joseph could have said “No” to God’s message and chosen to look after his own interests first. But he chose to obey — and he was found to be a good and faithful servant of the Lord.

God also takes a risk with us, weak and vacillating as we are. God entrusts to us the message of His love and grace in Christ Jesus for us to live out and share with others.

Loving Father,thank you that You loved us so much that You sent Your Son Jesus on that blessed Christmas night to reconcile us with You.May You find us good and faithful bearers of Your grace and mercy each day of our life. Amen.


Bible references:
Matt. 1:16-24; 2: 13-19; 13:55
Luke 1:27; 2:41-51
John 1:45

Cover: The Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth built over the carpentry workshop and home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Photo by Johanan Celine Valeriano / LCP