Rehabilitating Joseph

In my poem, “Joseph Dreams,” (December 7) I try to imagine the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective. I base my surmising from the plain meaning of the text in Matthew 1:18-25, describing the dilemma Joseph had when he learned that Mary was pregnant and how his dilemma was solved by the angel of the Lord appearing to him in a dream.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Christmas itself as a celebration began to gain weight and significance within Western culture. In the early church and for many centuries thereafter, the main celebration of the year centered around the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus at Eastertide. But during the Middle Ages, Christmas captured the imagination of common people. The Christmas Carol as a genre did not originate so much in the church but in the popular village celebrations of Christmas. It was a grass roots phenomenon, perhaps like how the composing and singing of Psalms in the Old Testament emerged outside of the sacrificial system ordained by Moses.

But as the common folk appropriated the great salvation story of the New Testament, and especially that aspect of it revealed in the Incarnation, various legendary notions began to attach themselves to the Christmas story. The Cherry Tree Carol is a good example. “When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he / He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee…” The carol pictures Joseph as a jealous old guardian of Mary instead of a man close to her age and a loving husband. In much of the Medieval and Renaissance art work depicting the Nativity, Joseph looks old enough to be Mary’s father.

But there is no warrant from Scripture to believe this. It’s far more likely that Joseph, while he may have been several years older than Mary, was close to her age. Matthew himself records for us that Joseph was righteous—not with the righteousness of the Pharisees which could be punctilious and mean-spirited—but with the classic Old Testament righteousness which was full of goodness and mercy. Even when he found out that Mary was with child, he wanted to treat her as carefully and as considerately as he could (Matt. 1:19). God could not have picked a better foster father for his Son. You could consider my poem, “Joseph Dreams,” as my contribution toward rehabilitating Joseph in the popular imagination.

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Insightful Interview

On Air

Tom Worth reports as follows:

“I visited the Mars Hill Network radio station, perched atop Onondaga Hill where I live. Everyone welcomed me. Dawn Sessler was quite interested in my book and looks forward to interviewing me again when my next book is published.”

Enjoy listening to this five-minute interview!


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Thoughts on “Like Walking on Water”

Our Christmas tree this year…

Often when I write a poem, I start with a metaphor; I sniff poetic possibilities in the wind and I follow these and see where they lead. I had been teaching in Mostar Bible Institute, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the fall of 2011. While I was in flight on the way home, this image of Jesus walking on the water came to me as a kind of parable of his Incarnation. So I followed the metaphor, saw where it led, and came up with the poem.

As in the old German carol, Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming, my poem arrived at the same place the carol does: “She bore to men a Savior, when half-spent was the night.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, the great novelist who struggled with malaise, observed, “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.” Job, in the middle of his trial, his dark night, described it like this:

“Like a slave longing for the evening shadows,
or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages,
so I have been allotted months of futility,
and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
When I lie down, I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
The night drags on, and I toss till dawn” (Job 7:2-4).

This is what I love about our Lord Jesus: He comes to us in the middle of the night, during the fourth watch—at three o’clock in the morning. He chose to arrive at the time when we needed him the most. In the middle of the night, when all the negative alternatives seemed so plausible—then he came with new life, new hope, a new future for us all.

Like walking on the water He came to us,
Born to Mary and Joseph long ago
Born our Savior, Christ the Lord,
Coming to us in the fourth watch of the night
And saying, “Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid!”

Posted by Thomas Worth in Background, Incarnation, Insights, 0 comments