A few years ago when my oldest daughter was still little, we into a discussion about the role of Joseph in the life of Jesus. We were talking about how Joseph isn’t really Jesus’ dad, because God the Father is. And then my little 6-year-old girl helped me realize something that I already knew, but hadn’t really thought about: Joseph was Jesus’ adoptive father. Joseph adopted Jesus and made Him his son. But then we moved on to talking about princesses or what some kid said on the playground.
Only a few days later I was sitting in a doctor’s office (waiting and waiting) and reading a book called Adopted for Life by Russell Moore. The book looks at how God adopted us and how we are supposed to take a helpful role in various ways with seeing orphans get adopted. Wouldn’t you know it, but toward the end of my waiting time I reached a chapter that talked about Joseph as the adopted father of Jesus. Moore pointed out how most people forget about Joseph in the Christmas story. He is portrayed as just doing his job of taking Mary and Jesus where they need to go, almost like an usher. He is merely a bit player in the greatest story ever told. But Moore showed how Joseph was so much more.
Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son. And like all other adoptions, that means I was 100% wrong when I said, “Joseph isn’t really Jesus’ dad”. In my desire to highlight that Jesus was not born from man’s seed, but conceived in Mary’s womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, I completely downplayed or even misrepresented the truth about Joseph. Joseph was indeed really the father of Jesus. Joseph wasn’t like a step-dad who comes into the picture when a kid is older and tries but never gets accepted as the true father. Joseph adopts Jesus as his own. Jesus becomes his son with full privileges and responsibilities. Joseph doesn’t raise Jesus like his own – Jesus had indeed become Joseph's own.
Mary was not wrong in Luke 2 when she called Joseph the “father” of young Jesus. And later in that chapter it tells us that Jesus, like all good boys, stayed in subjection to both his parents. In fact, that is why it is completely appropriate that the lineage of Jesus is traced in the gospels trough Joseph and not Mary. People are usually bothered by that, because they want to argue that Jesus must be a descendent of David through blood – as if adoption makes someone less a son. But Jesus was very much the Son of David, not in spite of but because of being adopted into that family.
Adopted children are fully children of their adopted parents. They aren’t somehow less than. That is true of adopted kids today and our adopted Savior when He was a child. And that is important to remember this Christmas, because we are adopted children of God. We are not like His children, we are His children.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6
This Christmas, when you look at a manger scene remember you are looking at an adopted child. Then look at Joseph and remember that he became Jesus’ father. And let that stir you to reflect on how you are also a blessed adopted child. You are adopted by our great Father, the Lord of the heavens and earth. We’re not like His children, we are His children.