As good Americans, we know that Christmas is all about Santa Claus.
But for some folks – Christians primarily – Christmas is about Christ; Immanuel … God made flesh who came to earth to dwell with us. It’s about a baby in a manger. It’s about a young woman, essentially a girl, who became pregnant under suspicious circumstances. It’s about a manger, shepherds, a magnificent star and three wise men.
Is that all? Oh, and there was a father. Well, kind of.
His name was Joseph. He was informed in a dream that he should not fear; his to-be, virgin wife was pregnant with God’s baby. No sane man ever received such news. But in most tellings of the Christmas story, Joseph is a bit player. In our Advent manger scenes, he stands aside quietly while the action is with the others present.
But it is not difficult to imagine the role he actually played, for it was indeed significant. And his participation required not just him, but his manhood. As it is said, any man can father a child. But it is something altogether different to be a father to a child. Joseph was the latter.
We must note that there are many different kinds of men. I don’t go for the “wild at heart” variety, as it tends to be a somewhat narrow, culturally-fixed and even stereotypical view of manhood. Would such a view of manhood mean anything to the rural rice farmer in China?
So, what is it that makes a good man? It really means stepping up and doing the right thing, at the right time. This is what men did on 9/11. This is what Capt. ‘Sully” Sullenberger did with his airliner in the Hudson river. It’s what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln did in their leadership. Fireman. Policemen. Soldiers. Good husbands and fathers. They deliver the goods and don’t whine about it.
This was Joseph:
- He stuck by Mary after the strange announcement of her pregnancy when his first instinct was to quietly bail.
- He stood strong against the vicious hail-like gossip raining down on upon him from family, friends and neighbors at this news. The “God’s child” explanation surely did little to quell the chatter and was no- doubt received with winks, nods and eye-rolls.
- On their return trip from paying their taxes, Joseph was called on to calm his very pregnant wife and break the news – probably more than once – that “there was no room at the inn.”
- Joseph had to do a mild-McGyver and improvise a solution, convincing his wife that this dirty manger was the best option among no other options.
- Joseph delivered the child that was not his.
- Joseph presented that child to the world with joy and fatherly pride.
- Joseph had to hide his wife and boy away in Egypt to protect them from Herod’s baby massacre.
- Joseph worked to provide for the child and his mother in every way: food, shelter, direction, protection and emotional support.
- Joseph taught the boy Jesus his trade of carpentry.
We are told that young Jesus was fully obedient to his mother and father. Fatherhood is central in the Christmas story. Of course, the story of the Son of God has a father – the Father – central to it. But the story of the Son of Man also has a father central to it.
This means that fatherhood is a deeply divine and sacred thing. Dads, as we celebrate Christmas, allow this season to remind us that we are granted a profound honor to participate in something that is an earthly, physical representation of the very nature and character of God Himself. And that is true even when we are doing such mundane things as changing diapers, wiping sticky faces or reminding our kids to clean their room, do their homework or take out the trash.
It is no overstatement to say that Fatherhood is one of the biggest things going on in the universe.