Throughout the bible there are many people we remember for the great things they did. David slew Goliath. Joshua knocked down the walls of Jericho. Elijah conquered 400 Canaanite prophets on Mt. Carmel. But of all these great men who did great things, the greatest may be one we remember for what he didn’t do… Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Imagine Joseph’s situation. Shortly before his wedding to Mary he finds out, from a stranger no less, that Mary is pregnant with someone else’s child. Wouldn’t Joseph be justified if he canceled the wedding, left Mary and went off to find a partner he could more fully trust?
Yet, Joseph is known not for any of these things he could have done, but for what he does not do. Joseph did not run away. Whatever hurt, anger or insecurity he may have felt, it did not get in the way from his hearing the angel of God tell him, “Don’t leave, because this child needs a father in his life and you are the one who can fill this role.” And so he stayed… for the child’s health and happiness, if not for his own. An infant and toddler Jesus didn’t care what kind of emotional roller coaster Joseph might have been on after the angel Gabriel sprung all of that news on him. An infant and toddler Jesus needed Joseph to be there for him, even if he couldn’t properly say it, or understand it. So Joseph chose to be present in Jesus’ life and to be the father that both Mary and Jesus would need. Not only did they need Joseph, we all needed him. Without him the story of salvation could not have been written. Long before Jesus was able to save any of our lives, Joseph saved his. Remember that when King Herod ordered the infant Jesus be killed, it was Joseph who sheltered and protected Jesus in Egypt until it was safe to return.
Being a father doesn’t happen when you have your own biological child. It happens when we see the world through the eyes of the children you are raising. It is to recognize their needs and to strive to meet them, even if it means sacrificing the fulfillment of our own. And what children need more than anything is a father (and mother) present for them – there for them.
Throughout my childhood and upbringing, my father was always there. He organized and coached my baseball teams, kept stats for my basketball teams, took pictures at every concert and sold concessions when he wasn’t doing anything else. He arrived early enough to watch every pregame performance of the marching band and picked me up from nearly every football practice. He got there early for those pick-ups too. He’d always get there to catch the last 15 minutes and all the guys learned to watch for dad’s arrival knowing that when he came practice was almost over. A few years ago, I received an email, completely out of the blue, from an old friend. We played junior high football together. His dad was a big-time college football coach and a bit of a local celebrity. I hadn’t talked with him in twenty years, but he had read something I had written about my dad’s death in 1998. Here is a portion of what he sent me:
…I’m sorry your dad’s gone. I want you to know that I always looked up to him and was a little jealous of you. He was always there. He shared an amazing gift with you and, in a sense, with me. My old man was always gone. I loved him for doing something he was passionate about, but he was always at work. I think about your pops quite often, because I’m doing what he always did. You should know that he played an important role becoming the man and father I am today.
As much as I love hearing wonderful things about my father, this email really isn’t about my dad or his dad. It’s about what children need – rocks of strength, support and stability in their lives. As Joseph reminds us, having a child isn’t what makes us a parent. True parents ask not “What is best for me?” but “What is best for the children in my life?” Which is exactly what God – our heavenly parent did and does for us. God walks with us, lives with us, died for us, and rose for us. God is our rock and refuge, always there, whether green pasture or dark valley. So fathers, make time for your children. Be there for them. Work hard for them and provide for their future, but not at the expense of spending time with them. Years from now, they will remember this as the most significant thing you did. Men, you don’t have to have children of your own to be a father. Remember, Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s flesh and blood. There are many children today whose own fathers can’t or won’t be the fathers they need them to be, and you may be the father figure they need. And when you are there for them, you will be following a wonderful biblical model of fatherhood.
Blessings – Michael