According to Mumsnet a syndrome emerges about this time every year known as Why-isn’t-my-child–Mary syndrome. It seems that some parents – actually, mothers – harbour such a deep rooted desire for their little daughters to play Mary in the school nativity that their zeal turns into real antagonism towards others mums whose daughter might just turn out to be a rival. Apparently the syndrome begins in November and has cleared up by the time Christmas is finished.
The kind of desire for just a little bit of profile and the chance to be centre stage is not restricted to the school playground in the run up to Christmas. It’s something that is hardwired into human nature. However, it is very often the people who have little or no profile at all who are the real heroes. In church that is certainly true. For every high profile event or famous preacher, there are dozens of unsung heroes, people who serve without fuss and sometimes without thanks, people see serving as a great privilege and never seek praise.
In the story of the first Christmas, Joseph emerges as one of the great unsung heroes of the Bible.
Joseph found himself caught up in a whole web of events that he would no doubt have never chosen. His bride to be falling pregnant. Finding himself and his family on Herod’s wanted list. A journey to Egypt and a two year stay there. Hard to believe a carpenter from Nazareth would welcome such a set of circumstances. And yet throughout the drama, Joseph is only a supporting act. Centre stage is reserved for his young wife and, of course, the baby Messiah.
It was no accident that Joseph played the part he did. When you read the portions in Matthew 1 and 2 that narrate Joseph’s role in the Christmas events, you find a godly man with a godly capacity for the challenges he faced.
Joseph had a solid core. Matthew 1.19 describes him as a righteous man. The way he handles the news of Mary’s pregnancy reveals his righteous mindset. His decision to divorce Mary quietly demonstrates a combination of conviction and compassion. This was something that he had thought long and hard about. He loved Mary and did not want to bring shame on her. But he also loved God and did not want to bring shame on Him.
Unsung heroes have a strong inner core that drives them to seek the best for God and for people.
Secondly, Joseph was open to God, He was prepared to revise his decision in the light of further information – in this case divine information (Matthew 1.20) . Openness to God can save us from making harsh judgments and catastrophic decisions, the like of which Joseph would most certainly have made had his ear not been open to the voice of the Lord.
Finally, Joseph was prepared to give up his rights (Matthew 1.25). Joseph did not consummate his marriage until after Jesus was born. He had the right to, but he gave up his conjugal right for the sake of bringing Christ into the world.
Bringing Christ into our world requires the same kind of surrender of rights with which Joseph was faced. Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 9.19. He says that even though he is free he is prepared to become a slave to everyone in order to win as many as possible to Christ!
Despite the sacrifice, despite the courageous decisions, Joseph has never really gained the kind of hero status that befits him. In fact, he might well be appalled that we are talking about him in terms of a hero, even an unsung one. There again, that’s what unsung heroes are like. Not too concerned about receiving praise, just content to have had the privilege of serving.