It is that time of year again . . . time to pull out the old tattered costumes, gather all the children, and organize the Christmas pageant. The girl with the sweetest smile is again chosen to be Mary. The tallest boy is assigned the role of Joseph. The little ones are made angels. The rowdy ones are asked to be shepherds, and this year, since there is a shortage of boys, a couple of girls will be the wise men. At the first practice, every child receives a script with their speaking parts highlighted. Every child, that is, except the one playing Joseph.

Joseph has no script to study for he speaks no words in the nativity story. None. He is the silent partner in the adventure, the one who remained quiet in the face of life-changing news.

In fact, if you keep reading Joseph’s story, you will discover that he never, ever says a word. Not when the angel comes to him to announce the news of Jesus coming, not when he accompanies Mary to Bethlehem, not when Jesus is born or when shepherds and wise men show up. Throughout the entire birth narrative Joseph remains silent. And he keeps on remaining silent when he and Mary take their new baby to the Temple, and they encounter Simeon and Anna. Joseph is quiet during his family’s forced transition from Bethlehem to Egypt, and even twelve years later, when the couples loses their son during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Joseph speaks no words when they finally find the boy Jesus.

Joseph has a pretty major role in the early years of Jesus’ life story, and yet, he does not have a speaking part. The gospel writers do not record any of his words. Yet somehow in the midst of his quietness, I think if we listen closely we can hear love. See if you don’t hear love too.

When Mary’s fiancé learns that she is pregnant, surely he felt humiliated, embarrassed, angry. What man wouldn’t feel betrayed, and yet, Joseph responds in the most compassionate way he can. He can’t bring himself to forgive what she has done and go on with the marriage, but he chooses to handle the situation as quietly as possible.

When the angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream, Joseph listens to the explanation and to the instructions, and he wakes up ready to act. He chooses obedience. Joseph quickly hurries over to Mary’s house and assures her that he won’t abandon her. He honors his commitment.

On the journey to Bethlehem, Joseph cares for his greatly pregnant wife as best he can. He helps her as they walk. He encourages her to keep on going when she is tired. And when they finally arrive, he secures a place for them to stay, one that was not ideal but was safe and warm.

Eight days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary take their sweet baby to Jerusalem. They present Jesus as required by law and by love, and they offer the required sacrifices, dedicating this newborn son to God. They encounter two elderly saints who recognize Jesus as the one sent by God to save the world. And Joseph stands next to Mary, amazed by these declarations.

st-joseph-iconWhen the angel of the Lord comes back to Joseph again, he wakes his small family in the night, packs up their possessions, and begin the journey to safe territory. The family lives in Egypt until once again an angel shows up for Joseph, telling him that it is time to go home to Nazareth.

Finally, when Jesus comes of age, Joseph and Mary take their son to the temple for the Passover Festival. We know the story. Jesus wanders off. He gets swept into a theological conversation with several teachers and loses track of time. When Jesus is finally found by his parents, they are shocked by the kind of conversation he is having. They are amazed by the depth of his understanding. But even so, Mary scolds him for worrying them. Throughout this encounter, Joseph stays quiet.

In their gospels, Matthew and Luke record no words spoken by Joseph. We have no idea about what he might have been thinking or saying. All we have is a record of his actions, actions which speak clearly and loudly of love–love for his God, love for Mary, and love for Jesus. There is love in Joseph’s silence.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.