Joseph the Stepdad

Wednesday, December 13, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Matthew 1:18-25


If we’re honest, this part of Jesus’ story is maybe the most perplexing, and even most difficult to really believe – right? Mary and Joseph are married, Mary is pregnant, but Joseph isn’t the dad – the Holy Spirit is. Like Joseph, our first instinct might be to separate ourselves from this bizarre story. Our modern scientific-method minds are drawn to trying to explain it away.

I would invite us to let this part of the story rest with God’s ways not being our ways, and hold it in the realm of the mystery of faith. We can’t explain everything that God does or God intends. That’s why faith is closer aligned with trust than it is with facts or even knowledge. One of the best descriptions of faith comes in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, where it says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Rather than spend time trying to figure out the mechanics or biology of Jesus’ miraculous birth, I invite us tonight to focus on the miraculous relationship that emerges as Joseph claims the role of this child’s stepdad. The role of stepparent was probably not all that uncommon in Joseph’s day. But it certainly didn’t look the same as it does today. Men of the day often had dangerous jobs and died young. Women who had children at home would re-marry their husband’s brother or cousin, in order to survive and provide for their children. The stepdad was more an insurance policy than a replacement father figure.

So, there weren’t many examples for Joseph to follow by being the stepdad from the very beginning. But God seemed to have this all worked into the plan – for Joseph, and for God’s chosen family, stepparenting is a calling from God, and essential to the flourishing of family and community. In Joseph’s case, the angel makes it clear that he is not just some stand-in for a father figure, but in every other way than biology, Joseph will be the earthly dad to Jesus. He will name him. He will protect him. He will raise him in his trade as a carpenter. “Do not be afraid” the angel says, “to take Mary as your wife” – do not be afraid to choose to step into this role as stepparent.

For many today, family is also a choice. We have the family we are born into, and the family we choose to be a part of, whether related by biology or not. I come from a family that is mostly family of choice. I am not a stepdad, but I have had two stepdads in my life. For a long time, people might have said I come from a “broken” home, but I don’t see it that way. Not in the way some may think of it. Undoubtedly, there has been pain in my family when relationships were severed, but there has also been blessing. I have four siblings, of which I only share blood with one of them. I’ve often said that I don’t have a family tree, I have a family hedge. Yet, we choose to be family. We choose to care about each other as siblings, and we choose to have relationship with our stepparents, as they choose to have relationship with each of us. It’s not the same relationship as a child and a parent, but it doesn’t need to be to make it meaningful. Is it sometimes messy? You bet. But at its best, like a lot of things, it also feels holy – as though God has done something redemptive and healing through these chosen relationships.

I wonder if that’s the gift of Joseph to Jesus and to Mary. That he chose faithfulness to God’s call, even when it wasn’t popular or even honorable in some people’s eyes. A lot was on the line for them – Joseph’s whole family’s reputation, and Mary’s too. People definitely gossiped. I’m sure plenty of folks thought that theirs was a “broken home”.  But they’d be wrong.

I also wonder if this is one of the gifts of Joseph to us, that as God’s people we can see the blessings that come from people who choose to claim the call to stepparenting, who find ways of navigating the sometimes challenging road of weaving family together in new ways, and in the process fulfill the call which God gives to every family – to love, to protect, to train up in wisdom and faith, and to be witnesses of God’s grace in the world through relationships.  It is into this kind of family that God chooses to be part of and offers redemption and hope for the whole world. Amen.

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