Every January, a special pastry called Galettes des Rois appears in Quebec City's grocery stores. It marks the time for Epiphany, the date that traditionally signifies the wise men's arrival in Bethlehem. In each is hidden a half-inch plastic figurine of a king. Its lucky finder is crowned sovereign ruler for the day. This celebration also marks the official end of the Christmas season.

I delight in the children's suspense and the party spirit of the day. But it seems odd to me that so little time that day, or throughout the holiday season, is given to remembering another man, one present from before Jesus' first breath.

The Gospels reveal little of Joseph of Nazareth. As far as we know, he never sang anything resembling Mary's Magnificat. Unlike Zechariah, he never remonstrated with an angel. Compared to Mary and Zechariah—and to the Magi who are remembered, at least in some churches, on Epiphany—Joseph appears all but forgotten, his actions mentioned, seemingly, only in passing.

Even at the Temple, where Joseph and Mary go together to present the newborn Jesus, Mary is the center of attention, the old man's words for her alone. "Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary … 'This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel … And a sword will pierce your own soul too' " (Luke 2:34-35).

Was Simeon implying that Joseph would somehow be spared the sword? Was he, indirectly, predicting a premature death for Joseph? Perhaps. Or is it that Simeon knew Joseph's soul was already all too familiar with the blade? Even today, some people would shake their heads in disapproval at a cuckolded husband-to-be willing to raise, as his own, the proof of what would look like infidelity. It's not a stretch to think this is the very thing the angel tells Joseph not to fear (1:20).

Instead of protecting himself, however, Joseph accepted this kind of sword and, through marriage, protected Mary. Later on, when told to move his family to Egypt to safeguard the child from Herod's murderous paranoia, he immediately abandoned any plans to return to his hometown, his house, friends, and professional reputation. How much easier it might have seemed to keep silent about the dream and let Herod rid him of a family embarrassment.

If none of Joseph's words are recorded, perhaps it's simply because he rarely spoke. What could he have said, in any case, to erase the disdain from the eyes and lips of the townspeople—to stop the whispers and laughter he had to pretend not to hear as he went about his work? The Bible gives us very little access to Joseph's inner world. Did his neighbors' incredulity spark doubts in him? Despite the angelic visitations in his dreams, he could never know for sure this baby was of divine origin—not in the same way Mary knew for sure. Be that as it may, Joseph continued to shield and provide for Mary and her son, for Jesus "grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him" (Luke 2:40).

If Joseph didn't speak much, I suspect he prayed a great deal—conceivably prayers like this: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane is as gut-wrenching in its longing and pain as it is simple in its wording. We know that Jesus was obedient to the end, but his prayer suggests his obedience did not come easily. Hebrews 5:8 confirms this, saying that even Jesus had to learn obedience in spite of the shame he suffered.

But who modeled it for him? The obvious answer is that his heavenly father was the primary and perfect source of all learning and that Mary taught him a lot. But I can't help wondering if Jesus didn't also glean from the example of Joseph, his earthly father, who, rather than cling to a lesser plan of his own devising, lived his whole life in affirmation of a greater plan—however fleetingly glimpsed and incomprehensible.

To be sure, to try to discern what is going on behind the text of Scripture can be an uncertain exegetical path. But this January, as I savor my Epiphany cake and set a cardboard crown on one of my children's heads, I will not only again commemorate the Magi, but also Joseph. I will be reminded that faithfully following the path set before you in a dream rarely makes you popular with your peers.

I will also remember that God used shameful circumstances to call Joseph. Far from being an obstacle, they were the very context in which God invited him to live out his calling. Desiring to follow in Joseph's footsteps, I will seek to live out God's calling for me, even when my role appears hidden and commonplace—believing that his is the greater, and better, story.

Kathy Berklund-Pagé is a freelance writer and, with her husband Ron, a community leader with the Navigators.

Related Elsewhere:

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has commentary on the second chapter of Matthew from Thomas Aquinas, John Nelson Darby, Matthew Henry and more.

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