When I was born, back in the dark ages, fathers weren't allowed in the delivery room. They sat in smoke-filled waiting rooms, beyond closed doors, waiting for a doctor to come through those doors and tell them the happy news. I'm not sure why this was so. Was it a sense that this was a private thing for a woman, that men had no place in the proceedings? This is odd to consider, since presumably they had been in the room when conception took place. The child about to be born was his own child, every bit as much his as the mom's. But this isn't the way it was looked at. Child bearing and rearing were primarily the domain of women. Even as late as the decade when I was born (I'm fifty-one, so figure it out!).
But every now and then, throughout the centuries, fathers have been the only person available to deliver the baby. With no more training than I have, they've been the only one to watch their wives struggle and labor (and often, I suspect, feel incredibly helpless in the face of that pain), then they've washed their hands and held them out to catch the child.
The earthly father of Jesus was in this exact situation. Having been told in a dream what his role would be--Mary's husband, therefore implying he'd be step-dad to the God-child being born (hmm, that phrase 'godchild' takes on a whole new meaning here, doesn't it?)--to name Him, care for, protect and teach this little boy skills to be a man. Joseph obeyed this directive, which unfortunately came just before he had to return to the town of his ancestors for the census/counting of the people. From his point of view, this must not have been propitious timing, since Mary had to be loaded onto a donkey when she was approximately nine months pregnant (give or take). To wrench her away from her mother and the other women who could help her, must have been a difficult thing for Joseph, who, after all, certainly loved her enough to take her as his wife. God had told him, "Don't be afraid to take her as your wife," which tells me that it was already Joseph's previous desire. It was out of his righteousness that he'd intended to divorce her quietly, though I don't really get this. It's always seemed to me that if he was trying to do the honorable thing, it would have occured to him that being married to her, saving her honor, would accomplish that more readily than divorcing her.
In any case, God told him to go ahead and marry her, likely after she returned from visiting her cousin Elisabeth, which means it was fairly near the end of her pregnancy. So he married her, and whisked her away on the honeymoon trip on a donkey. How romantic is that? But, perhaps due to the slowness of a long trip with a pregnant woman, who must have had to stop repreatedly, to heave herself off the donkey and relieve herself (I remember the feeling of my blatter being the size of a pea (whoops, that's a pun) when I was nine months pregnant). By the time they got to the city of Joseph's family--co-incidentally (or not!), the city it'd been prophesied that the Messiah would be born in--there was no place left to sleep.
Historians have surmised that they perhaps ended up in a cave that functioned as a stable. And wouldn't you know it, just about that time, Mary finally told Joseph she was in labor. Maybe she'd been feeling those pains for the last few hours of the road trip, trying not to think about it, trying not to fear it. But now they'd stopped, and were surrounded, not with the women who normally attended the birth but farm animals. Only Joseph was there to do the best he could for his wife--whom he'd yet to know intimately--and for the child coming. Imagine the pressure he must have felt in those moments. Do you think he wondered if he'd be equal to the task of catching God? Equal to holding the Incarnate first? But Joseph lifted up the child, and as was the right of fathers in that age, said what God had told him to: "His name is Jesus."
Joseph was the first human being to ever see God in the flesh. The first human to ever hold the One who had cramped His largeness and power into the tiny skeleton of a human baby. The man who named Him what He had come to earth to be--"Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."Think about that. Think about the wonder of that moment. If God hadn't told him, Joseph wouldn't have known, but because he knew, he must have been awed. What God had told him had come to be. Here was God in his hands, a squirmy, crying Savior, and, for the first time in eternity, helpless and dependent on humans to survive.
The moment of this birth, with Mary sweaty and tired, Joseph overwhelmed with what he'd just helped her do, the baby crying,can you imagine it? The culmination of their entire nation's longings caught in Joseph's hands. The promise of eternity, held and nursed against Mary's chest. The Word--which was God, the word which God had told Joseph in a dream--now real. Do you think maybe Joseph wondered if it had all been only a dream (maybe caused by something he'd eaten!) until the moment he saw the baby's head crown? Maybe. I might have wondered myself.
But there He was, the real live Savior. Joseph caught the baby and the world would never be the same.
And the same is true for us. The moment when we hold out our hands and catch Jesus, we are changed forever. There was blood, and tears and sweat to get Him here, to birth Him in our lives, but when we catch Him, when we metaphorically hold our Incarnate God, we become something new. Joseph became his dad, we become His children. All part of the amazing Incarnation of our God.