Christmas from Joseph’s Perspective
In the background
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider the role of Joseph in the Christmas story.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a student to play the role of Joseph. This will need to be practised before the assembly. You may also wish to ask a student to take on the role of the interviewer.
- You may wish to use some props, such as a hammer and chisel.
- Have available an image of Philippe de Champaigne’s painting ‘The Dream of Saint Joseph’ and the means to display it during the assembly. It is available at: https://tinyurl.com/y83r8u4r
Interviewer: I am going to introduce you to someone who had an incredibly important role in the Christmas story, and no, it isn’t the donkey! Joseph, would you like to come in? (Joseph enters.)
Joseph: There, I knew they wouldn’t expect me. Everyone always wants to talk to Mary, or the shepherds or the kings. Never me!
Interviewer: Joseph, welcome. Now, why do you think that no one ever wants to talk to you?
Joseph: Well, I guess lots of people don’t think I’m that important. Mary gets most of the attention, and rightly so, but I just wish that sometimes, someone would ask me how I feel about all this.
Interviewer (addressing the audience): I wonder if you’ve ever noticed how Joseph is presented in Christmas cards or paintings of the Nativity scene. If he’s there at all, he’s almost always presented as an old man, leaning on his crook or looking the other way. I’m not sure what would have been historically true, but it might be that Joseph was a young man, full of life.
Joseph (coughs): Excuse me, I’m as good a carpenter as you’ll find anywhere. I’m also not so old that I can’t walk to Bethlehem from Nazareth. It’s quite a long way, I’ll have you know!
Interviewer: Yes, sorry, my apologies.
Joseph: Well, I haven’t got all day to be standing around chatting idly with all you people. I have a young son who needs taking care of, and I promised that I would play with him this afternoon. Children, they wear you out! (Joseph leaves.)
Leader: Thank you both. What an interesting idea. Imagine Joseph not being frail or old, but a man capable of playing with his son and of attracting a young woman like Mary. He was also, I think, a man of good morals and devotion. Mary posed a problem for Joseph in that she was pregnant and they were not yet married, only engaged to one another. Joseph, to begin with, did what might have been expected: he broke off their engagement, probably suspecting that Mary had slept with another man and was a woman not worthy of marrying.
Joseph was also a man of compassion, because he agreed to end the engagement quietly, without a fuss. However, something strange happens to Joseph. He has a dream where an angel, sent by God, visits him and explains the situation. The angel tells Joseph that Mary’s child comes from God: ‘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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”’ (Matthew 1.20–21)
Joseph knows what he must do and he does it without question, because he is a good, righteous man. He must have known that people would gossip about him behind his back and say that he was a fool to have married Mary, but he knew different and stood by her; he had compassion towards her and the child that she was carrying. Later, he had to help his wife while she gave birth to that baby in a stable, in appalling conditions. He is not someone to be left off Christmas cards and he should not be regarded as an old man either: he was a strong person who offered protection. He was a father and a husband, and should be remembered as having an important and lasting role in the Nativity story. Imagine him, then, throwing the small baby into the air and catching him, the two of them laughing. That is the Joseph who should be on our Christmas cards. A true representation of a good, righteous man, who was more than a carpenter; he was the earthly father to Jesus Christ, and probably did a fantastic job of it.
Time for reflection
Show the image of Philippe de Champaigne’s painting ‘The Dream of Saint Joseph’.
Ask the students to look at the painting and think about how each person depicted was feeling before and after the angel appeared.
This Christmas, let us not forget the importance of Joseph in the Christmas story.
Let us see him with new eyes and understand his role:
That he was a good, righteous man.
Help us to see the Nativity through his eyes
And understand that those whose role at first seems small are actually very important.
Any well-known Christmas songs or carols. A playlist is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MmIQcCgjuo (59.22 minutes long)