Epiphany, in the traditional church calendar, is a festival observed on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to honor and worship the infant Christ. It commemorates the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church it is called Three Kings Day and Twelfth Day.
The coming of the Magi to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child precipitated a crisis for Mary and Joseph and the Infant Christ. King Herod’s edict that followed, once he realized he was outwitted by the wise men as they returned home another way, called for all baby boys who were two years or younger to be killed. (Matthew 2:16-18)
Behind the scenes the whole incarnation, birth and safety of the Child could not have happened without Joseph. Not just a prop for the Christmas story, Joseph was an integral player. He was an ordinary person catapulted into a most prominent role in the history of God’s plan of redemption.
His own genealogy traced back to King David and ultimately Adam (Luke 3:23 -37). He was a devout follower of God faithful to the Law (Matthew1:19). It is known that Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary, a virgin, but before they came together she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
The angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph himself three times (Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13,19-20). When Joseph awoke after each dream he did exactly what he was commanded to do by the angel of the Lord: first, take Mary as his wife; second, take her and the child to Egypt and third, return her and the child to Israel. Each time he was the agent of a prophecy of each detail being fulfilled about the coming of Christ.
What if Joseph had not obeyed? What if he had refused? What if he had taken charge and done it his own way? Without him Mary and the infant child would have been bereft and uncared for.
The entire trajectory of Joseph’s life changed with the announcement of Gabriel to the virgin Mary that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35). When he found this out He acted with honor and integrity toward Mary planning to divorce her quietly. Relieved to know the whole story from the angel in the dream Joseph took Mary as his wife but did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to this son (Matthew 1:25).
Joseph was a man of integrity. He could be trusted. Can you imagine? He held God. He protected the mother and child. He was obedient. He listened to his instructions. He was alert to danger and rescued them to Egypt.
He was discerning and willing to do what the angel told him to do. “When they (the magi) had departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”(Matthew 2:13)
When it was safe again after Herod died Joseph obeyed the angel’s instructions that came to him in a dream and moved Mary and the Child back to Israel.
As we celebrate Epiphany, if that is your tradition, we can’t help but notice and celebrate the remarkable character of Joseph, Jesus earthly father (John1:45; Luke 3:23). At every turn the scriptures show his faithfulness as protector, provider and significant player in helping fulfill the exact prophecies of the incarnation.
What struck me about Joseph was that he gave up his expectation of the life he thought he and Mary would have before Gabriel announced God’s will to her. He shifted into the new role God had for him of helping raise God’s son. His life would never be the same.
How should we respond to this story?
• Thank God for His powerful sovereign protection over the Christ Child and trust His sovereignty.
• Thank God for and learn from the character of Joseph – modeled a willingness to do what he was asked to do with great risk and impeccable integrity.
• Worship and praise my Savior like the Magi’s model of worship in the Presence of Deity.
• Be aware of and grateful for of His orchestration of these perilous events – He is sovereign in my life.
• Know with confidence that God communicates to His children however is needed at the time as shown in His Divine guidance through dreams to the principle characters (Matthew 1:20; 2:12-13,19,22).
The story of the wise men is more that just a nice conclusion to the 12 days of Christmas… it is a clarion call for my worship of the same Christ they worshipped in the first century. The character Joseph is more than a prop within the Christmas Story but an intentional figure, chosen by God from the lineage of David to be the earthly father and caregiver of the Holy Child and His mother.
What does the Lord require of you, of me? Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Picture of the painting – Oil on Panel; 1645, Berlin, Gemaldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen