If you haven’t watched the Disney+ hit “The Mandalorian” yet, this is the way.
(Not to be confused with what Jesus said — “I am the way.” Totally different kind of way.)
The spin-off of the epic cinematic “Star Wars” legacy tells the story of Din Djarin, a.k.a. Mando, a member of a warrior clan known as Mandalorians from the far side of the galaxy. Both seasons so far of the streaming episodic series have focused on Mando’s efforts to protect a being known primarily as “the Child” (though most people call him “Baby Yoda”), an adorable green, pointy-eared baby with incredible abilities, courtesy of the Force (that longstanding “Star Wars” stand-in for religion). It was Mando’s job to capture the Child and bring it to someone with very bad intentions, but instead he saw the light and rescued the little guy. Many a take on the series has described it as the story of a caring single dad trying his best under difficult circumstances — though of course, Mando isn’t really the Child’s father.
But even though “The Mandolorian” has made for great entertainment this holiday season, there’s another guy serving as father to a very special child and working hard to protect Him under challenging circumstances — a guy who gets mentioned often this time of year, but maybe not as much as he should be.
That would be Joseph. As in, Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
We talk a lot about Mary, especially this time of year. For certain major branches of the Christian faith, Mary obviously plays a major role. We venerate her in some of the great works of western art. We sing songs like “Mary, Did You Know?” or lyrics like “Round yon virgin, mother and child.” And the Book of Luke, which seems to be the official “Christmas service book” for most churches, spends a lot of time talking about Mary, including a lengthy bit often known as “Mary’s Song,” in which she praises the Lord for blessing her with such a special child. Even Somerset’s own Flashback Theater Co. is currently working on the eventual production of an original musical about Mary, the creation of Amber Frangos.
And then ... there’s Joseph.
Usually, in the nativity story, Joseph is just sort of ... there. He doesn’t get the attention Jesus does (obviously) or the attention Mary does (see above). It’s not even his kid, really — I can’t even begin to get into the theological implications of deity parental rights, but he’s really just an adopted dad since the baby Jesus was divinely formed in Mary’s womb, according to scripture.
Let’s face it — Joseph deserves more credit.
And as long as we’re all cheering Mando as he takes care of Baby Yoda zipping around the galaxy, dodging bounty hunters and giant spiders and the evil Empire, it’s a good time to recognize everything Joseph did to keep safe this very special child entrusted to his care.
Fortunately, the Gospel writer Matthew took care to tell us at least a little about Joseph’s side of the story. He doesn’t get a “song” or anything, like Mary did — like the masculine Mandalorian, he’s a man of few words, I suppose. But also like Mando, he’s a noble sort who believes in taking responsibility and showing mercy to the vulnerable.
Matthew tells us that Joseph and Mary were engaged when “it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” This, I’m sure, was not Joseph’s first suspicion. If your fiancee is pregnant and you know it isn’t yours, the logical assumption is that she’s been unfaithful to you. And in that day and age, when women were treated less equally, more like property, that was a very, very big deal. Remember when Jesus saved the woman accused of adultery from having stones thrown at her, likely a fatal punishment? Yeah. It could have been bad for Mary if Joseph had wanted to make a stink out of it.
Instead, Joseph showed mercy. Now, things weren’t right — he had still been cheated on (or so he thought) and put in a position that no man of that era was okay being in. So being married to Mary was no longer on the table. Instead, “not wanting to disgrace her publicly, (Joseph) decided to divorce her secretly.” Whatever a person with a modern perspective might think of that reaction today, it was the move of a truly stand-up guy at the time.
This is where things get crazy. It would take something crazy to convince most guys that God made their girlfriend pregnant, not some other guy, right? Something big. Something like ... an angel. And that’s what happened to Joseph. An angel appeared to him in a dream and explained the situation — “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birt h to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because He will Save His people from their sins.”
This was a big ask. Trusting this dream to be right about the fact that Mary hadn’t been unfaithful to him after all, but instead, something that had never happened before in human history — something that violated every known rule of human biology — had indeed happened? That’s a big leap of faith. And Joseph, to his credit, took that leap. “When he got up from sleeping, Joseph did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him” and went through with the marriage as planned.
So we know Joseph is a good guy, who isn’t willing to hurt the woman he loves and is willing to raise a child that isn’t technically his own. But this would not be a normal, mundane parenting job. Much like with Baby Yoda (not his real name in the show, but I want to be spoiler-free), there were folks with bad intentions from whom Joseph had to protect the child. In this case, the bad guy was King Herod, who had heard that the Messiah, the prophesied King of the Jews, had been born. Herod saw this as a threat to his own power. He initially tried to use the visiting Magi — the “Three Kings” or “Three Wise Men” from every nativity scene and song — to find out where the Christ Child was, but when that didn’t work, he took a much more drastic, sinister approach: ordering all male children in and around Bethlehem around Jesus’ age to be killed.
Again, Joseph’s faith — specifically, his ability to take direction — saved the day. Another angel appeared to him in his sleep and said, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”
So, according to Matthew, Joseph “got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt.” Imagine that for a moment: You’re asleep. You have this crazy dream telling you to get up and go. Most of us would dismiss it, roll over, and hit the snooze button. Even if we believed it was for real, that’s a big deal — packing up and moving everything to a foreign country on absolutely no advance notice? That’s a huge responsibility to put on Joseph’s shoulders.
But his responsibility was to protect his family — and especially, this very special child in his care. So he did it. Seemingly, no questions asked. And that wasn’t all. After Herod died, Joseph’s old angel buddy popped up again — Joseph has got to be tired of hearing from the angel at this point — and told him to return to Israel. So that’s what Joseph and his family did. But he leaned that Herod’s son was ruling the joint now, and that didn’t seem very safe. Yet another dream told Joseph to go instead to Galilee and the town of Nazareth, where presumably, Baby Jesus would finally be safe.
Dads have a lot of responsibility in modern households, considering everything from “Honey-Do Lists” to bringing home money to provide for one’s family. And of course, there’s the always-active task of keeping one’s kids safe and in one piece. It can be easy to take what dads do for granted. For many in the audience, “The Mandalorian” has reminded us how important a good dad can be.
Joseph should remind us of this too. Much like the Mandalorian took pity on the Child and assumed care of him, Joseph was forgiving of Mary and ultimately willing to raise a child that was not his biologically. Like Mando flying from planet to planet in search of ways to help the Child, Joseph found himself on the move a lot, in an effort to keep the powers that be from harming Baby Jesus.
Of course, Joseph had free will. He could have complained. Could have shirked his responsibilities. Could have treated Mary poorly and left her for dead, could have refused to move everything the family owned to a new country in the middle of the night when he just wanted to sleep, and could have told that annoying angel to take a hike at some point.
But he didn’t. Joseph was a “righteous man,” Matthew tells us. He was better than that. He trusted the Lord. He loved his wife. And he did everything he could to protect the child he was asked to raise.
This holiday season, when we look at the nativity scene, let’s not take Joseph for granted. He’s not just some guy standing around the manger. He’s the Biblical version of our favorite modern action hero and unlikely father figure. Joseph is the man.
Merry Christmas to all, and have a blessed New Year.