Before we ever arrive at a manger in Bethlehem, we must first stop in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. The shop we are looking for is Jacob’s. Even though we have no scriptural reference to him except in Matthew 1, it would seem he had a significant role in the story of the birth and life of Jesus.
Jacob was the father who would shape the heart, soul, and character of Joseph, the earthly father Jesus would grow up with.
If I let my imagination consider this part of the story, my thoughts take me inside the shop with Jacob carefully training Joseph in his trade and craft as a carpenter. Jacob might well have been known in the village as a quality craftsman. Wood might be stacked in the corner to be available for the next project. Wood was not always readily available so Jacob knew it was important to be a good steward of what he had.
Jacob had been working with Joseph since he had been a boy. He wanted him to learn how the wood could yield to his tools and the vision and plan for each item he made. He wanted him to understand the grain of each kind of wood and what it would be best suited for as well as how to smooth it to a perfect finish.
Along the way as they worked side by side, Jacob also had time to talk with Joseph about other things. Joseph learned family stories and the history of the generations before him, but he also learned about their faith, the way of the men of his family. He was taught about the value of keeping his word, honesty, kindness, courage, strength, and the importance of prayer and the Torah.
Little by little as Joseph grew, so did his skill with the wood and the tools that represented the trade of his father. People of the village began to recognize the fine character of Joseph as much as they acknowledged his skill as a carpenter.
Jacob knew that he needed to seek out a young woman for Joseph that would compliment his son, a young woman of gentle qualities and unblemished character. The young woman he chose was Mary and soon the engagement between Joseph and Mary was announced. Everyone agreed it seemed like a good match.
Joseph continued to work with his father at his carpentry so he would become skilled enough to provide for a wife and family. The time was quickly approaching when they would be married. He wanted to be ready and was becoming increasingly eager for their wedding day.
Everything seemed to be going along just as he planned and hoped until the day Mary came to the shop and asked to speak with him privately. Joseph could tell by Mary’s tone and intensity this was not a casual visit even though she seemed very serene as they slipped outside the shop.
He could not have known or guessed the news she was about to share with him. He knew Mary’s reputation and her character as well as the good home she had been raised in. Now here she stood telling him that she was pregnant. Pregnant? He knew the child was not his own. How could she have betrayed his trust? A myriad of feelings welled up in him as the news sank to the bottom of his heart.
And the story Mary was telling him sounded like such a fable. An angel appearing saying the Holy Spirit would hover over her, a child would be conceived in this virgin and would be the Son of God? Was this madness? Whatever had happened, he knew he had every right to divorce her publicly for disgracing him. But for some reason, he just couldn’t bring himself to do that. Somehow his heart could not turn on her in that moment and he agreed instead to quietly go about the business of the divorce to save her humiliation.
After Mary left, Joseph kept reviewing everything Mary had said as well as everything he had come to know about her during their courtship. Nothing made sense to him. He knew he had to act as he had told Mary he would, but he decided he would sleep on it and handle it all the next day. News like this could wait until tomorrow and Mary was already on her way to see her cousin, Elizabeth.
That night as he slept, an angel appeared to him in a dream saying, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke the next morning, he remembered the dream. He knew now Mary had been telling him the truth. He marveled that God had sent a heavenly messenger to reassure him it was his will for him to not break the engagement to Mary. He could not imagine what this would be like. He was being called to provide and care for not only Mary, but also a baby boy who would be seen as his son and yet was the Son of God.
How do you train up a child who is the Son of God?
He would need to let Mary know.
The gospel of Matthew tells us Joseph was a “righteous man”.
A man who yielded to God’s will and chose to obey Him became the earthly father of the Son of God.