Written for Advent Worship for the UCC in Wallace, Idaho
Joseph has arrived at the creche and taken his place. If he seems awkward and unsure of himself, it’s because he is. None of this is unfolding the way that he anticipated, and now… well, now he isn’t sure which end is up, much less what’s happening or why, and what, if any, role there is for him to play. One minute he thinks the future is clear: he and Mary will get married, settle down, and hopefully have a family; he’ll carry on with his work as a carpenter, and dreams of being able to pass the business along to his son. But now? Who knows? Now that he knows he has no right to even expect the child to call him Dad, all bets are off. Should he even be here?
Being a step-parent is unlike any other role there is. And if parenting is filled with unknowns and things you can’t control, multiply that times ten and you might be getting close. The first fact of life that you have to get clear on is that there is someone ahead of you, and you can never pretend to be the Dad or the Mom. That role’s taken. And no matter what that other relationship looks like, it’s got baggage. Whether the real parent is hands down the best parent ever or a walking disaster; a presence that was cut short and will forever be grieved or an ongoing presence at every game, concert, science fair and spelling bee, or a ghost who went AWOL before the baby saw the nursery the first time, accept the facts up front and get on it. Get on with your job, which is getting to know and growing to love this child. Figure out some of the details together, like what they’re going to call you, and let love lead you from there. And when you get right down to it, isn’t that what every relationship should be about? Following love’s lead?
Since Joseph is here, it appears he’s in. Who is he to complain that the real Dad is God? And even if the baby doesn’t have his nose or chin, there are still going to be things he can do and ways he can help, starting with keeping him and his mother safe. Eventually, maybe they’ll even get out to the shop so he can introduce him to the smell and feel of wood.