Before we know it – the last dish will be washed, the final visit will be completed, the gift cards and cash spent, and the decorations will be strategically boxed up for another year. Besides New Year’s Resolutions (I usually break mine sometime after week two), what is something that we can strive toward between now and Christmas 2016 that will make us better people?
May I suggest there is an individual in the Christmas story that models traits we all can work toward getting better at this year (and the years that follow)? I would like to take a glimpse at someone we possibly “gloss over” when looking at the familiar Christmas narrative. That person is Joseph. He was a man of inner strength, faith, patience, and perseverance. And as he demonstrates for us, we can continue to build our character.
The text is found in the book of Matthew, chapter 1, verses 18 – 25:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, say, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” . . . And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
Joseph exhibits for us these three key traits in this passage:
- He was a man of Impeccable Character. Notice that he was a “righteous man” before he heard the news of her pregnancy and before the angel spoke to him. In that society, he had the legal right to have her stoned to death since she was pregnant outside of their marriage and betrothed to him. However, he chose to “send her away secretly.” Think of what was going through his mind: Why was she unfaithful? What did I do wrong? What will happen to my business, family, and social relationships now? As the scripture shows, he chose to protect Mary’s dignity, forgive the perceived wrongdoing, and give her an opportunity to start a new life. What about us? Are we quick to jump to conclusions towards people without hearing the whole story? Even when we are wronged, do we have an element of mercy and forgiveness toward those that have offended us?
- He Immediately acted on God’s Message. As soon as he woke up, he followed the angel’s command. He didn’t argue, over analyze, question what he heard, or wonder if it was just his imagination – he got busy doing what he was supposed to do. What about us? When we are prompted by the Scriptures, a sermon, a podcast, a person, a book, or that “inner voice” – what do we do with it? Paralysis by analysis? Wait until a more opportune time? Or, like Joseph, do we take action by faith – even though we don’t have all the answers right now?
- He was a man of Incredible Self-Control. Joseph loved Mary so much he was willing to wait until after she gave birth to fully become husband and wife. He may have had to take many cold baths in the Jordan River. Or go for late night jogs on the streets of Nazareth. I wonder how many times he had to cling to the promises of God when the voices of accusation toward Mary flooded his mind? What about us? Are we willing to delay gratification in whatever area of our lives we need to? Do we cling to the promises of God, or let accusations and bitterness build in our hearts?
Once again, we are reminded that Joseph had these internal qualities before this life-changing event occurred. We can take an honest look deep inside to see where we need to work in the areas of character, listening to God, and self-control. That is a worthy task that will last a lifetime, not just fade with a New Year’s Resolution. Robert Freeman once said, “Character is not made in a crisis, it is only exhibited.”