His heart pounded wildly in his chest as he searched the sea of faces for his son. Every tear staining his wife’s cheeks and each frantic call of his name from her lips pierced his soul. Had he been wrong to trust the boy to travel with the family without direct supervision?
No. For twelve years this child had been perfect. He was respectful, responsible and hardworking. His manners were impeccable and his kindness unmatched. Trusting him was easy. But now all these characteristics only made his father worry more. There were those who wanted to hurt him from the moment he was born, and the prophecies which hung over their heads daily, causing deep frown lines in his wife’s forehead, foretold of a violent death.
“Protect him, Father God,” he whispered to the heavens as he pushed his way through the crowd. Everyone was anxious to get home from their journey; to rest after the festivities of the Feast. He received more than a few glares and muttered oaths as he desperately knocked into luggage, elbowed soft flesh, and stepped on toes.
“Help me find my son!”
Some took the time to ask their own children if they had seen him. Others ignored his pleas, just wanting to end this trip quickly without interruption.
Sweat poured over his face nearly blinding him. He adjusted the band around his head, wishing now he had worn a more significant covering for the trip.
Mothers pulled their children closer and fathers looked at him with pity, and possibly judgement, as his voice rose to a higher pitch and squeaked like a pubescent boy on his son’s name.
“Jesus! Jesus! Are you here?”
Cousins and uncles helped with the search, causing the idle chatter in the group to turn to quiet murmuring in a wave of fear that flowed down the dirt road through the travellers. Mary’s child was missing.
More voices took up the call. “Jesus! Jesus! Where are you?”
Eyes turned away or looked down as he passed. With the news of his lost son came a loss of respect as a father. If Jesus had deliberately left the group, it was Joseph’s fault. Real men did not raise boys who were irresponsible or inconsiderate to their parents.
But Joseph knew that Jesus was none of those things. This was why his heart pounded with fear. Surely the boy was in trouble.
He caught up to Mary and grabbed her hand, stilling her in her tracks. When she turned her face into his chest, he wrapped his arms around his wife, her small body shaking his with her sobs.
“We’ll find him,” he told her, hoping his words were the truth.
He wiped her tears with the back of his hand.
“Let’s go. We’ll hurry back to Jerusalem. He must still be there.”
Mary pulled back from his embrace. “Jerusalem?! We’ve been travelling for three days! He was with his cousins when we left. How could he still be in Jerusalem?”
Joseph shook his head. He had no answer for her. But it was clear that their son was not here.
They made the trip back in half the time, arriving in Jerusalem tired and dusty, having eaten all their provisions and drained the last drop of their water. The city was relatively quiet with its visitors gone. Joseph held Mary’s hand tightly as they walked the streets, peering down alleys and asking residents if they had seen a twelve-year-old boy wandering around.
“There’s a lad in the temple.” The old man’s voice was gruff and muffled by his thick grey beard. “He’s been there for a couple days. Word has it that he’s giving the priests an earful. If he’s your son, you’d better get him out of there. You know how much those old guys like to be challenged about their views.”
Mary’s eyes met her husband’s then, and she nodded. Jesus was in the temple.
Joseph wordlessly thanked the old man before they raced toward the center of town. His fear was transforming to something hard around the edges. Did the boy stay here on purpose then? Had he callously caused his mother’s heartache?
As they burst into the temple, Joseph was vaguely aware of how inappropriate they must look, wearing the dirt and sweat of travel on their skin and clothing. But his mission was to find his son, and he knew the quest had ended when he saw the crowd of old men gathered around a smaller figure near the front of the room. Jesus was talking to the men like a peer, listening and asking questions, responding with eloquence; as if he were the elder imparting wisdom to them. He gestured with his hands while he spoke, his voice calm and confident, unaware of the panic he had caused.
Joseph felt a wave of anger move down his arms, curling his fingers into fists, opposing the relief flooding his chest. The shock of finding him here this way had stilled his feet. He knew that he should feel a sense of pride that his son could hold such an audience, but a new rush of heat moved over his face as he saw Jesus glance their way and continue with his teaching as if they weren’t there.
Mary had no qualms about disturbing the scene as she swooped into the center of the group and threw her arms around her son’s neck. While he returned her embrace with obvious affection, Joseph could see that the interruption was not welcome.
“Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere!”
Jesus’ eyes met his father’s briefly and then settled on the woman who gave him birth. They were filled with love, but his words, though spoken gently, cut Joseph’s heart more than they would hers.
“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Mary’s puzzled look spoke his initial reaction, but inside his chest Joseph’s heart anguished. The verbal reminder of his status in this family caused his jaw to clench as he fought back the tears. For years he was able to pretend that he was the boy’s real father. It was his beard the chubby hand had pulled with a toddler’s giggle; his face at whom the boy looked when he said “Dad”; his calloused fingers the young lad grasped when they walked together; his side at which the growing boy learned his carpentry trade.
As they retraced their steps to Nazareth, Joseph felt a sting of jealousy, followed swiftly by guilt. He knew this day would come; the day when Jesus would acknowledge his heavenly Father over his earthly one. He just wasn’t ready for it yet.
Mary touched his hand, and her warm look told him she knew. As his wife, she felt his heartbreak; she would help absorb the pain. They had taken on this mission together as a team. Their role as parents to the Messiah was not one they had entered into lightly.
Hands pushed them apart as their son squeezed between them. Joseph gladly covered the lad’s warm fingers with his as Jesus joined them into a family chain, something he hadn’t done for years. Joseph clutched those fingers more tightly as Jesus whispered a word of apology for causing them worry; sending up a prayer of repentance to the boy’s real Father for needing that apology. He asked for courage to complete his vocation as God’s servant for as many years as his Father saw fit to allow him to do it.
When he again looked into his son’s face, the lad’s mature, loving gaze caused a warmth to flow over him, erasing the other negative feelings.
The new awareness was peace.
Mary seems to play a leading role in the story of Christmas and later in accounts of His life and death as the mother of Jesus. However, I find myself wondering today about Joseph’s part in this story.
Joseph had no physical connection to creating the child. He was a stepfather of sorts. I’m sure he treated Jesus as if He were his own, but he would have always felt that degree of separation; that the boy would one day desire to know His real Father more than His earthly one. It had to have hurt.
It was Joseph’s acceptance of this parental role which fulfilled the prophecies that the Messiah would be born into David’s line. It wasn’t Mary’s ancestry that put Jesus in the correct genealogy; it was Joseph’s. He may not have been a part of the conception or carried the baby in his body, but his role in God’s plan was huge.
Sometimes we question our own role in God’s service. We can look at pastors and worship leaders and think that we don’t have the potential to make a difference in the world. But the underlying message of Val’s Stage is that we do.
When we love God with all of our hearts, our lives will reflect his love to others. They will desire what we have. We don’t need a Bible college degree or a physical stage in an auditorium to spread the message of Jesus. Our life performance does that. Our job is to love God and to love others.
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”1 JOHN 4:12
The Christmas story is about love: God’s love, Mary’s love, and Joseph’s love too. We are the continuation in that chain of love.
How can we show more love to others in this season and throughout the year?