(Since Joseph is never mentioned again in the Bible after Jesus turns 12, scholars believe he probably died sometime in Jesus’ teens or twenties)                   

                       JOSEPH’S LAST CHRISTMAS

 

     Joseph was dying.  He lay on a thin mat on the dirt floor, without moving.  His body felt weak, and each breath was difficult.  There was a soft stirring, and his 17 year old son slowly put his head into the room.

     “Father?” he said quietly.

     Joseph slowly turned toward him and tried to smile.  “Jesus,” he said. “Come in.”

     Jesus entered and sat on the floor next to him.  “How are you feeling?” he asked.

     Joseph gave a slight, negative shake of his head, but smiled thinly.  “I won’t lie to you—you’d know it if I did.  Besides, you’re a young man now.”  Still he hesitated before continuing.  “I don’t have much time left, Jesus.  I’m sure of that.”

     “Don’t say such things, Father,” Jesus said, his eyes filling with tears.  “There is always hope—with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

     Joseph’s eyes locked onto Jesus’.  “And yet this last week you haven’t put your hands upon me and prayed for my healing.  You know too, don’t you, my son.”

     A tear spilled out of Jesus’ eye and trickled down his cheek to his young, thin beard.  “Father…” he began.

     Joseph slowly raised his hand and Jesus held it.  “It’s alright, Jesus.  I understand; you can’t say everything you know.  But in this case, I know it too.  And I know that you know.  What you don’t say, says much.”

     Jesus put his head down and wept.  “I’m sorry, Father,” he said.

     “There’s no need to be sorry.  Everyone dies.  I was just hoping I’d be able to see you come of age, see what God does with your life.  That disappoints me.  But it may be that I will still get to see you, from the grave.  Who knows?”

     They sat in silence for a time, gripping each other’s hand.  Joseph closed his eyes and breathed deeply.   Jesus might have thought he’d fallen asleep, but for the continued squeezing of his hand. 

     At last, with his eyes still closed, Joseph said, “It’s always felt strange hearing you call me your Father, when we both know I’m not.”

     Jesus thought for a moment, then said, “We both have a Father in heaven, of course, but you HAVE been a father to me.  It’s right for me to call you that.  You’ve loved me and taught me and provided for me.  When I was small you protected me.”

     Joseph opened his eyes, but appeared to be looking at something Jesus did not see.  “It’s never surprised me that Mary was chosen,” he said, “she’s so good and pure, the ‘handmaid of the Lord,’ just as she has said.  But me—why me?  Why was I chosen?  I’m just an ordinary carpenter, from a poor, ordinary family.  When God told me in a dream, just before you were born, that I was to raise you…, I was terrified!  How!?  I’ve asked Him many times—how can I raise Your son?”  Joseph shook his head, still in wonder after more than 17 years.

     “Did you ever get an answer?” Jesus asked.

     “When you were very little, it seemed the Lord told me, ‘Trust Me, and be you.’  Then Your son will be raised a carpenter, I said.  Is that what You want?  ‘That will be good,’ He told me.  ‘A man who creates with his hands, and then looks with satisfaction upon his work.’  I realized later, that is exactly what He did.” 

     Jesus smiled.  “It seems I take after both my Fathers,” he said.  Then, after a pause, he added, “I think I know why you were chosen.  You’re honest; you always do your best—even on small, simple jobs; you’re patient; you taught me I must always have a plan before I start working, that using the right tools makes the job easier and makes what I’m building turn out better.  You always said a man works best when he works for God—not money.  And you taught me that a son’s place is with his father.  These are things that are true in all of life–not just carpentry.  I think you were a good choice…, my father.”

     Joseph’s eyes glistened as he turned and looked at Jesus.  “My son,” he whispered.

     When he was able to speak again, Joseph continued, “I haven’t forgotten what today is, Jesus.  The day of your birth.  Seventeen years ago the three of us huddled in a stable.  A stable!  I remember it like yesterday.  You cried and ate and slept, cried and ate and slept, for 3 days straight!”

     Jesus laughed.

     “Then when enough people left town,” Joseph said, “we could move into one of the inns.  I had to earn our keep by fixing plows, and building doors and tables.”  He shook his head, but smiled at the memory.  Then his smile faded.  “I’m sorry we’re not having a proper celebration today, Jesus.  You deserve better.”

     “It’s just a day, Father, like any other day.”

     “No.  No, it’s a special day.  All of your birth days have been special.  For your brothers and sisters, their birth days were full of happiness and celebration, but your birth day has always been different.  Happiness and celebration, yes, of course; but something more than that too.  Something… important.  Something mysterious, and holy.  I don’t know the words.”

     Jesus grew somber and looked at the wall, but his eyes were not seeing it.  “Each year, on the day of my birth,” he said, “I think of all the young boys in Bethlehem who died because of me—because Herod was looking for me.  It seems sometimes like I was born for death.”  He turned back to Joseph.  “I can’t explain it to you, Father, but I know that some day I will be like them–I will die in place of others.”

     Joseph looked troubled, but said, “God has His plan, Jesus, and I do not possess the wisdom to see it.  But I do know that you are His tool.  He’s a good carpenter too, and He will do a good work.” 

     He paused, then sighed.  “I’m sorry this isn’t a happier day, my son, but I want you to know that I have been celebrating your birth, even as I lie here.  We have always celebrated it, your mother and me—even when there was no work, and very little food on the table.  Even when your brother was very sick.  It seemed to us that your birth mattered more than whatever was happening around us.  Nothing was too bad to blot it out, nothing was so good that it overshadowed it.  My sickness doesn’t take away from it, Jesus.  Even my death cannot take away your birth.”

     “You honor me, Father,” Jesus said, bowing his head.

     “No, not just me.”  Joseph spoke as strongly as his weakened body would let him.  “Don’t you see?  There will always be people who will celebrate this day.  The day you were born is a special day, and before too long many people will realize that.  Many people…”  His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes.  

     “I must go now, Father,” Jesus whispered.  “Mother told me not to stay long.”                                                                                        

     He quietly stood up and walked to the door.  Just before he left the room, Joseph said weakly, “My son.”

     Jesus turned.  “Yes, Father?” he said.

     Joseph was looking at him through tired eyes, but he smiled as he spoke.  “Happy birthday, Jesus.”

 

 

Michael Anderson

Copyright 2007  All rights reserved

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