“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’”(Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 ESV).
This past Sunday the Church observed the commemoration of St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus (March 19). Why?
Because the Church has historically looked to Biblical figures as examples to us of God’s grace in action in human lives, and as encouragements to faithful living. Joseph is certainly that—especially for fathers.
In our day when many are bemoaning the “death of the nuclear family,” Joseph’s situation serves as a reminder that sin has wrecked the family as God instituted and intended it from the beginning (Genesis 2:18—3:24). Since the fall into sin, there has never been a “perfect family” on the dust of this earth. What we often refer to as “the Holy Family” is no exception.
Think about it: Mary, herself a sinful woman who needed God’s grace just like the rest of us, was an “unwed mother” (Luke 1:30). Though she was “betrothed to Joseph” (Luke 1:27), which was binding under the marriage laws of that place and time and so would require a legal divorce if Joseph declined to “‘to take Mary as [his] wife’”(Matthew 1:19-20), her marriage to Joseph had not been consummated when she “was found to be with child”(Matthew 1:18 ESV). So all the social stigma we might think of today loomed over Mary.
But Joseph did take Mary as his wife—received her God’s gift of a spouse, we might say. It seems to me that the parallels between St. Luke’s report of the annunciation to Mary and St. Matthew’s account of the annunciation to Joseph both conveyed the grace (favor) of God—both centering as they do on the Savior.
“‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end’”(Luke 1:30-33 ESV).
“‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV).
While we often hear of Mary’s response of faith (“‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’”[Luke 1:38 ESV] and bursting into the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55]), Joseph’s actions sing as profoundly as Mary’s words:
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus”(Matthew 1:24-25 ESV).
Joseph, by the grace of God, became the foster father of Jesus. His God-given role was to provide for and protect, to nourish and to nurture, to teach and train this son entrusted to him by the Lord. Joseph was called to the vocation of father, just as every man who is blessed by God to beget a child. But, as noted above, Joseph faced special circumstances that no other earthly father has ever had to face. By the grace of God, he manned-up and met every challenge. In this, Joseph provides an example of grace and true manliness for us all.
But he’s not alone in this. I have known many men who have awed me with their strong, yet gentle, always loving fathering. I only wish I had been like this for every day that the Lord blessed me with the opportunity to represent our heavenly Father to the children He has given me to father on earth. For all my mistakes—unintentional and deliberate sins, I pray daily for forgiveness. And, believe me, I thank the Lord every day that He has now blessed me with a second chance of sorts with the grandchildren He has brought into my life.
Martin Luther, who did not have an “ideal’ relationship with his own father, Hans, clearly valued to the vocation of father (and mother) as God has defined these. Consider this gem from his treatment of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism:
“God has given this walk of life [vocation], fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it. Not only has he commanded us to love our parents but to honor them. …. [H]e distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself” (The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kolb-Wengert edition, pp. 400-401).
Yet Luther also had a realistic view of us poor, miserable men whom God calls to the vocation of fatherhood. Try as we might, to live up to the high and holy calling of representing our heavenly Father to the children He entrusts to our care on earth, we fail. Daily.
Yet, if we are men of faith who look to Christ Jesus for forgiveness and guidance for life, we will teach our children to do the same. As we do this, we have the promise of God that the Holy Spirit will be effectively working through our humble efforts to teach and train up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), that is, to follow Jesus. God will honor this, not because our efforts are worthy, but because of His gracious promises for the sake of His dearly beloved, well-pleasing Son who loved us and gave Himself up to death on the cross for us (Galatians 2:20).
Fathers, teach the faith to your children. Pray for them and with them. Lead them in worship, bringing your family to church, participating in the service and singing the hymns—or at the very least opening the hymnal to follow along with the text even if you don’t sing along. Show your children by word and deed that religion is not merely for women and children, but is as manly a thing as there can be.
Remember: our faith is in a Man who was a carpenter/mason (the New Testament Greek term includes both vocations), who was strong enough in body and spirit to fast for forty days and still do battle with the devil himself, who cared for his mother (after Joseph apparently died), who withstood flogging and crucifixion, and still had strength enough to pray for you and me, provide for his mother, and willing lay down His life that we might be forgiven and spared the pains of eternal misery and death. Jesus was no wimp.
During these penitential days of Lent, recall the final words of the Old Testament:
“‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.’” (Malachi 4:4-6 ESV).
Ask yourselves, fathers, what is the most important legacy you can provide for your children?