© Sing Lok Che

Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1: 19-20 (NIV)

The last couple of years, I’ve allowed myself time on Christmas Eve to sit quietly and reflect on the story of Mary. It is difficult to imagine the social scorn she and Joseph must have endured during the pregnancy of Jesus. When I really start to think about the depth of their faith…their conviction and belief in God…it truly takes my breath away.  

I am sure they were rejected and ridiculed by people they believed to be their allies and confidants. They must have had felt as deserted as Tom Hanks in Castaway – even though they were together.

While Mary was likely mocked and taunted by her peers, Joseph must have had several of his friends trying to talk some sense into him.

“Joseph – you need to get away from her…she’s going to drag you down. It’s not even your kid. Run, man – fast! You have no obligation to her – she’s broken the relationship. You’re crazy if you marry her.”

What deep love and loyalty Joseph must have had for Mary. Otherwise, how could he have had confidence in Mary’s story of an angel coming to tell her that she’ll be impregnated with God’s only Son?

Joseph did not listen to the naysayers. He stayed true to his heart, his faith and his love for Mary and the unborn child she was carrying. God confirmed Joseph’s heart and sent an angel to him to reassure him of the Immaculate Conception. And Joseph became a step-father to Jesus.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were a step-family.

For those of us who are a step-family, it always gives me strength to realize their were probably times when there was tension at the dinner table or discord amongst Mary and Joseph about what consequences Jesus should have for separating from the group to hang out in the temple.

As a step-mom, I’d be lying if I said that when I look across the dinner table at my step-sons chewing with their mouths open and their elbows on the table that I saw young Jesuses. In those moments of trying to instill life-long skills for the 900th time in the last six years, I feel like Cruella de Vil rather than the patient and loving step-parent I envision Joseph to have been.

Surely, step-parenting for Joseph had to be easier than it is now. I mean they didn’t really have to co-parent with other people…well, unless you count the Almighty God. But shouldn’t that be whom we are all co-parenting with?

They didn’t have to split time with another set of parents…

Well, actually, they did. When Jesus was 12, he disappeared from the large group his family was traveling with on their return trip to Nazareth from the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem.

Mary and Joseph had been frantically searching for Jesus for three days. If I lost one of my step-sons for three days…oh my goodness, I cannot even imagine the panic, the guilt, and the shame…not to mention the anger from my husband and the boys’ mom – and rightfully so.

But, it was in that story when Jesus made it clear that there was a change in custody. That is when co-parenting, shared custody, moving between houses became the reality of this step-family.

When Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, Mary confronts Jesus.

I find it interesting that Mary is the one to confront Jesus. In a step-family, it is often a function of biological parents to discipline their children before a step-parent does. But in nuclear, biological families of origin, the father is typically the one to confront and implement the discipline for large infractions.

Perhaps this tells us that Joseph was functioning as many of us step-parents do – back-up coverage, the quiet position, or the support role.

Exasperated, and I’m sure a bit perturbed, Mary says something along the lines of, “What were you thinking? Why would you do this to us? We have been worried sick looking for you!” Apparently, all parents take the behaviors and choices of their children personally.

Jesus responded, apparently surprised they didn’t know where he was, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus’ time in His Father’s house, doing the work His Father sent Him to do would mean less time with Joseph, who had raised Jesus as his own.

Biblical scholars have noted that following the incident of Jesus in the temple, Joseph is not mentioned any further in the Bible. It is not clear when Joseph died.

I wonder if he died with a broken heart. After raising Jesus with the love, passion and integrity, as he would have his own biological children, it must have been painful for him to accept the new co-parenting arrangement with God.

Sometimes, step-parents will suffer silently. We are reminded often, through media, legal red tape, and unfortunately by some biological parents that as a step-parent we are merely an accouterment, an accessory, in the lives of our step-children.

Maybe step-families should view the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus with hope and optimism. Rather than accepting the status as a faux family, step-families may wish to view Christmas as a reminder that faith, love and hope can create miracles in any situation…even those that may have a social stigma attached.

Believe. Hope. Love.

© Rebecca G. Townsend, LLC 2015

This blog first appeared on Rebecca’s site in December 2014.