Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph
by Adam Hamilton
–Review by Teri Hyrkas
Welcome to the Christmas Season! Now that the glorious day of Christmas has been celebrated with all the joy and attention it deserves, I hope you can put your feet up, rest a bit and take some time to read. If others didn’t give you the gift of a book this Christmas, Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph (Abingdon Press, 2017) by Adam Hamilton, would be a delightful volume to give yourself.
Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, is the author of numerous books, many of which are concerned with the people, places, and events from the biblical Christmas narrative. Hamilton’s latest book about the Nativity is written from the perspective of a member of the Holy Family, the one who is always in the background –Joseph.
Hamilton notes that there is not much to draw from in the scriptures about Joseph:”Only sixteen verses in the Bible (NRSV) mention Joseph by name, but I believe his influence was much stronger and wider than you might guess from those few passages. I would argue that almost everything you read in the gospels about what Jesus said and did was shaped at least in part by Joseph.”
By looking at Joseph through many vistas — beloved saint, historical figure, laborer, betrayed spouse, step-father — Hamilton has produced a rich illustration of a person who, for many of us, may only be a shadowy outline in the account of Christmas.
Hamilton notes that he had three questions in mind when he was writing Faithful:
- “How does Joseph shed light on the meaning of the Christmas story?”
- “What can we learn about God from Joseph’s story?”
- “What can we learn about ourselves from Joseph’s story?”
The author approaches these questions by furnishing historical, relational, and spiritual observations about Joseph’s quiet but long-lasting influence in Christian thinking. For example, in surveying our present notion of the Christmas story, Hamilton puts forward a connect-the-dots historical sketch showing how ancient Christians’ ideas of Joseph still shape modern renditions of the crèche. As far back as the second century, Christians had a strong desire to know more about Jesus’ childhood and family life. From this longing sprang the apocryphal gospels, says Hamilton. Although they do not meet criteria set for scripture, the author writes, “[It] is possible that occasionally some of the apocryphal gospels preserved traditions that were historical, stories that had been handed down by the church but not included in the canonical gospels.” One of the stories that found a place in the early church was the idea that Joseph was an older man and a widower when he became the husband of Mary. Says Hamilton, “I’ve encouraged my congregation to look at their nativity sets at home to see how Joseph is portrayed. Many portray Joseph as an elderly man, though some, particularly those created by Protestant artists, show him to be quite young…[The] gospel accounts of Joseph and Mary are not incompatible with the view that Joseph was an elderly widower. I leave it to the reader to decide.”
Throughout Faithful, Hamilton tells of the solicitous deeds of Joseph toward Mary, and the fatherly, personal care he showed Jesus, then draws parallels between these actions and the tenderness with which God treats humankind. Hamilton suggests that Joseph possessed many compassionate qualities in his character which induced God to choose him to be the husband of Mary and the stepfather of Jesus. “When I think of three words that describe the humble carpenter… they are merciful, gracious, and forgiving. And this leads me to wonder: How many more times, as Jesus was growing up, did he see the same attributes in Joseph? How often did he watch Joseph show mercy to those who wronged him? How often was Joseph gracious to those who hurt him? How often was he the image of forgiveness?”
In learning about ourselves from Joseph’s story, Hamilton includes a section called “Raising A Child Not Your Own.” Among many insightful comments he offers this for our consideration: “I have described Joseph as the patron saint of doubters. I would suggest that he is also the patron saint of foster parents, stepparents, and adoptive parents. Perhaps nowhere is the selfless, sacrificial love of God more clearly displayed then when someone takes on the task of raising and loving a child who is not biologically theirs. They didn’t have to take the job, they had a choice, but they chose to set aside their fears and accept the calling to be a stepparent, foster parent, or adoptive parent.”
Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph, is filled with well researched observations and thoughtful commentary about Joseph, son of David, son of Abraham — a man whose life was lived in as close proximity to Jesus as is humanly possible. If, as the author suggests in the opening pages, “…much of what Jesus said and did was shaped at least in part by Joseph,” it is time well spent to read Adam Hamilton’s book about faithful Joseph.
Faithful is a gift-sized book of less than 140 pages. It comes in large print and e-book formats, as well as being a DVD with Adult, Youth, and Children’s Leader Guides available.