Recovering Joseph’s Story

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

In the days after Christmas I have, for the past few years, found my self wondering what, if anything, has changed. Each year after Christmas, I reflect on the day itself, the glut of food and gifts, and think that perhaps it will be simpler next year. Perhaps things will change.

But as the year comes and goes, I find myself caught up time and again in the rush to purchase the right gifts, and rarely, if ever, do I bother to give gifts to the one whose birth day we celebrate. This year, while walking through the Christmas season, I found myself enveloped in Joseph’s story.

We often leave him behind. We talk about Jesus’ mother. We talk about Mary’s son. But Joseph seems to fade into the background. Except perhaps that day when Jesus comes back home after wandering the countryside. That day, all the people in the village ask (gazing, glaring, staring) in disbelief, “isn’t that Joseph’s son?”

On that day, Joseph’s son manages to tick off the entire village, to cause such an uprising as to see himself run out of town, possibly for good. He proclaims the year of Jubilee, overturns the expectation for vengeance, opting instead to proclaim good news for the poor, release of the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and the freedom of the oppressed.

And what did Joseph get from this all? He got to see his son – if ever-so-briefly. But for how long? Was there enough time for a big family dinner? Enough time to catch up on all Jesus’ adventures? To prove to his friends that his son was not merely a wandering vagabond, but a brilliant student and expositor of the scriptures?

Perhaps Joseph only heard his son’s stories later. Who knows how long Jesus was in town. Perhaps he had to wait for the stories to circulate amongst the community of Jesus’ followers.

But what did Joseph really know, and what happened to him after his son was run out of town?

Did he shrug his shoulders in shame, walk back to the wood shop and sulk? Did he stand up to the rabid crowd and defend his son? Had he been changed by his son’s message? Had he been discipled by his own son in the ways of God’s radical love for the downtrodden?

For Joseph, Jesus was more than just a child. He was God’s child, the product of an inexplicable pregnancy, who was to become a messenger, a prophet, and the one to usher in God’s coming Kingdom. He taught the message not only with words, but with the way in which he lived.

Perhaps nervousness overcame him. Nervousness for his son, for what might happen. He had been run out of his home town – was it like this everywhere? Or perhaps Joseph’s faith strengthened him, allowed him to dig deep into his memories of God’s faithfulness, and spurred him on, reviving and renewing him in that moment.

Perhaps he was reminded of the faith he had needed when his teenage girlfriend had announced her pregnancy.

Perhaps he was reminded of the faith they had needed to pick up everything and run from the authorities.

Perhaps he was reminded of the faith they had needed in finding places to sleep, or while scrounging for food to eat.

As the eve of the new year approaches, as time marches forward, I find myself stirred to a new yearning for faithfulness. A desire to be more faithful in my relationships. In my work. In the way I relate to God’s creation. Faithful in advocacy for those whose voices have been silenced or ignored.

This coming year, I pray that our faith and faithfulness be increased, all the while such things are challenged by the very fabric of the culture around us; All the while our friends and neighbours, and even we ourselves, resist God’s call to Jubilee faithfulness. And so as the new year approaches, I ask of you, as I ask of myself:

In stewarding the earth, and all that is in God’s good creation,
Will you be faithful?

In caring for the poor, the needy, the infirm,
Will you be faithful?

In providing meals to the hungry and drink to the thirsty,
Will you be faithful?

In discipling future generations,
Will you be faithful?

In respecting parents and honouring elders,
Will you be faithful?

In your daily tasks, whether at home, at school, or in the workplace,
Will you be faithful?

In relationships with friends, family, lovers, neighbours, co-workers, classmates,
Will you be faithful?

In seeking the peace and welfare of your neighbourhood, city, province, country and world,
Will you be faithful?

In thirsting after righteousness,
Will you be faithful?

In seeking justice and living mercifully,
Will you be faithful?

In all things,
Will you be faithful?

Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
(Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson, 1735-90)

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

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