Regardless of your religious leanings or lack thereof you probably know the basics of the Christmas story: Jesus Christ, the long promised Jewish messiah, is born of a virgin named Mary in the town of Bethlehem. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who plays a relatively small but critical part in the story.
Little is known about Joseph, the man responsible for the rearing, safety and welfare of the child Jesus, the Son of the Living God. The gospel writers devote minimal ink to Joseph. But thanks to Matthew we do know that he was “a righteous man” (Matt. 1:19 NASB) and by inclination a kind man.
Mary and Joseph had traveled from the backwater outpost of Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted as part of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus.
They arrive in Bethlehem only to find the place filled with other travelers. There is no lodging available so they wind up staying in a stable or something akin to it; possibly a cave where livestock was kept. While there, Mary gives birth to the baby boy. Soon thereafter angels show up with a dazzling display, at first terrifying a bunch of shepherds who then listen to the angels and decide to go into town and see for themselves what has happened; this event on which world history will hinge.
Christ, of course, is the center of Christmas. But I sometimes wonder what Joseph must have been thinking on that first Christmas Eve. Mary was probably a teenager. Joseph was likely older than she; although how much older is anybody’s guess. Think about what he had been asked to believe. He is engaged to a young women he cares for. They are making wedding plans. Then Mary (we assume) tells him she is with child, though still a virgin; the baby conceived through the Holy Spirit.
Understandably, Joseph had doubts. He did not wish to disgrace Mary and planned to send her away secretly (Matt. 1:19) until an angel of the Lord intervenes and explains to Joseph what is happening and what is going to happen and what he must do. Thankfully, he listened and obeyed.
I am not a Bible scholar but in my view of all the people in the Bible no one’s faith was tested more strongly that Joseph’s. What would he tell his family? How was he to protect his wife from the rumors that would be spread; that were already spreading? He must have faced these self-imposed questions and others.
By the time they arrive in Bethlehem the story is in motion. Both Mary and Joseph understand their roles. But in the quiet of that first Christmas Eve, Joseph – away from home and without even a proper place for his wife to lie down and rest – must have wondered what God had in mind for him.