Read Matthew 1:24-25
Joseph. He’s the character in the Advent stories whom I particularly admire. What I admire most is his humility.
Humility is thinking of others before yourself. It’s about helping people reach their potential and wanting the best in them. It about honouring God and others. This we see in Joseph. He lays down his life and obeys.
That first Advent life turned out very differently than Joseph expected.
He was planning to be married. The girl was Mary and they were waiting to be married before sleeping together. Then Mary announces she’s expecting! She’s adamant she’s still a virgin and has conceived by the Holy Spirit after an angelic visitation from Gabriel. However much Joseph wants to believe her, this unlikely story surely can’t be true and he understandably plans to call off the marriage. The fact that he doesn’t choose to publicly shame her means her probably loves her. He must be devastated. Disappointed. Probably humiliated. But then an angel comes to him in a dream, speaking as clear as crystal and telling him not to be fear taking home Mary as his wife for her story is true and that the baby should be called Jesus because he’ll save his people from their sins (Mt 1:20-21). Joseph shows great humility. He lays down his pride and obeys.
Mary goes away. She’s gone for three months to see her relative, Elizabeth (Lk 1:56) who herself is six months pregnant. Maybe Mary sees baby John born. These three months away provide good thinking-time for both Mary and Joseph. Maybe it’s during this time that the angel appears to Joseph. Mary returns probably showing a bump. Probably some questions are now being raised by family, friends and neighbours. His would be hard for Mary – and for Joseph. He might be teased, labelled, ridiculed by his community. In many ways it would be easier for Joseph to walk away from all this. But instead he decides to care. To care for Mary. To care for the precious, special little one she is carrying. Joseph shows great humility. He lays down his pride and obeys.
Joseph marries Mary. She becomes his wife. Many pregnant women enjoy a satisfying sex life during pregnancy and so now married, this could have been the case for Mary and Joseph. But instead they choose to wait until the baby is born (Mt 1:25) – maybe prompted by the Holy Spirit. This way there could be no doubt that Joseph is not the father. I expect this wasn’t what Joseph would have chosen. But Joseph shows great humility. He lays down his pride and obeys.
Jesus is born. In unusual circumstances – away from home and placed in a make-shift crib and wrapped in whatever they could find to keep him warm. Joseph is obedient in calling the baby ‘Jesus’ – the name the Angel gave him rather than his own name (Joseph), the name a Jewish father would normally give his first son. Joseph sees shepherds arrive, followed by Magi who bow down and worship this baby. It seems that the angel’s words are true. They take the baby and present him to God in the Jerusalem temple and amazing word are prophesied over him by Simeon and Anna. This causes Joseph and Mary to ‘marvel at what was said about him’ (Lk 1:33). This is a special moment for Joseph. God is reminding him that these difficult choices have been worth it. There’s a cost to humility, but it’s worth it. We see this in Joseph. He lays down his pride and obeys.
God speaks again in a dream. He tells Joseph that the child’s life is in danger and they must escape to Egypt and stay there until God makes it clear to return. Joseph has now learned to take such guidance seriously and so they flee that very night (Mt 2:14) and remain in Egypt until God speaks in another dream, telling them to come home. Surely none of this is how Joseph would have planned his initial years of fatherhood to work out! But God calls him to something important and it requires him to submit to God’s plan. Joseph shows great humility. He lays down his pride and obeys.
What should we make of Joseph? Is he a door-mat? Even a pawn in the hands of a manipulative God? No! Far from it. Clearly God is speaking to him and guiding him, but at every point, Joseph has to make tough, brave decisions. He chooses a higher call. A greater agenda than his own. He chooses to honour God and honour others before himself. This is true humility. This is true greatness.
Richard Foster puts it like this:
‘Of all the theological virtues, humility is one of the most coveted. No one enjoys people who are consumed by themselves. Smug arrogance is always distasteful. Genuine humility, on the other hand, has a gentleness about it that is delightful. There is an unpretentiousness in true humility that all people appreciate. But humility is as elusive as it is desirable. We all know that it can never be gained by seeking it. The more we pursue it the more distant it becomes. To think we have it is sure evidence that we don’t. But there is a way for humility to come into the habit pattern of our lives. Holy obedience opens the door.’
May we be inspired by Joseph and open the door to humility – through simple, tough obedience.
ACTION: Think: are you prepared for life to turn out differently than expected? Re-read Richard Foster’s quote above. If obedience opens the door to humility, what is the Lord asking of you at present, to which you simply need to obey? Take a Notebook and write it down.
PRAY: Ask for Holy Spirit to fill you with strength and courage to obey. And pray for someone else known to you who has a difficult decision to make at present. Pray for humility for them, shown in holy obedience.