Mary & Joseph: What message do they have for today’s parents?



She was a poor, young village girl. He was a humble carpenter. Both lived in a small town that had no real significance. Hardly a family one would expect greatness to come from. Nevertheless, God himself decided to bestow upon Mary and Joseph the awesome responsibility of raising his only Son. What kind of parenting material were they that God in his wisdom would chose them? Let us travel back in time, where scripture depicts this couple and the messages they have for us today.

Message #1: You need to rely on God’s strength

The nativity figures resting on my piano are very fragile. That’s mainly because they’re crafted in thin clay. However, the real manger family was anything but weak. Heather Kopp, co-author of Unquenchable Love , Harvest, notes that the events leading up to the first year of Jesus’ life would test the strength of any relationship:

  • An unexpected premarital pregnancy
  • Angelic interventions
  • The realization they would raise God’s Son
  • A wedding clouded by rumors
  • Rigorous travel during the final weeks of pregnancy
  • First child born in a barn
  • Baby on the king’s execution list
  • Emergency relocation to Egypt
  • Exiled in a foreign land, separated from all relatives and support groups

For any couple to come through those events unscathed would be amazing. Yet, Mary and Joseph apparently had a supernatural strength that came from God. Even if Mary may have doubted her own strength, she did not question God’s. Mary sums up her reliance on a supreme creator in her reply to the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”

Today’s parents face their own list of trials, making it necessary for them to draw from God’s strength. Child Psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman, author of What a difference a Daddy Makes, Nelson, can’t imagine going solo. “I don’t know how people get through life without God, let alone when you’re surrounded by the ankle biter battalion, or the hormone group who’s rolling their eyes. He is the answer to every question you want to ask as a parent,” Leman says.

Message #2: If you want your children to believe in your God, take your faith seriously

I’m not sure how many of today’s parents participate in daily devotions with their children, but for old Testament folks like Mary and Joseph, it was a mandate handed down from God through the prophet Moses. “Impress them to your children…” Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs.

Dr. Robert H. Stein, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, cites Mary and Joseph as a couple who obeyed the laws and precepts handed down by the prophets. “They were devout. They celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. They circumcise Jesus, and go through the purification rites. They are law abiding Jews in the best sense of the term.”

However, Mary and Joseph’s faith in God went deeper than just ritual. Mary was willing to offer herself to God, regardless of the ridicule and scorn, or even danger that might befall her as an unwed, pregnant woman. Joseph, in obedience to the instruction of the angel, takes Mary as his wife, in spite of any personal disappointment he may have felt for not being the biological father of their first-born son, not to mention postponing the physical consummation of the marriage. In these instances, we realize Mary and Joseph are more than religious people. They are people with great faith.

So, how important is it that our children see our faith in action? Dr. Stein believes it is essential. “The kind of character we have will have the biggest effect on them. The piety we exhibit, the love, the honesty, the integrity will affect them the rest of their lives. There may be a prodigal but they still know the example of Mom and Dad if it’s an honest one. I tell my students, ‘I know you are interested in evangelism, but the greatest single task of evangelism that God has given you is your own children. Win them by your example.’ To me that’s a much bigger area of success or failure than preaching to crowds and having people come forward.”

Message#3:  You do not need to raise your children with lots of money

In today’s materialistic society, love for our children is often measured by standards of clothing labels and shoe attire. Yet, Dr. Stein explains that God chose to give his son to a couple who lived in poverty. “If you notice the sacrifice that is offered for Mary’s purification it involves two turtle doves. Actually, it should have been a turtle dove and a lamb, but according to Leviticus 12:6-8, if they are poor they can give two turtle doves.”

This can be encouraging for parents living on a budget and focusing on eternal values. According to Dr. Leman “your kids don’t need the material things you didn’t have. It’s a smart parent that deduces the difference between what a child needs and what a child wants.” Leman encourages parents to “slow down and give your kids yourself, instead of things.”

Message #4: It’s not always easy being a parent

It starts out so fun; decorating a nursery, attending baby showers, and finally cuddling a small innocent life in your arms. Then, before you know it, the wallpaper is picked off, toys are scattered all over the house, and there’s jam stain on the carpet. When it comes to parenting, things don’t always work out the way we planned.

Reality came fast for the parents of Jesus. According to Kopp it might have looked to Mary and Joseph like they made a wrong turn in God’s road map. “Everything kept looking like it was going wrong. Joseph must have wondered if the God of the universe wanted his son born in a stable.”

Kopp reassures us that God’s plans often differ from ours. “As a couple, you have to cling to the plan and trust in God. Realize just because things are going wrong, doesn’t necessarily mean you heard wrong”

However, Dr. Leman challenges parents who create their own hardship, with unrealistic expectations. “A Christian home needs to be a place where kids learn to fail. The idea of ‘you have to measure up’ is just the opposite of what we teach about God’s love. The Bible says ‘nothing separates us from the love of God.’ Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have that same attitude in our home, so when the little things of life happen, we just step over them and go on?”

Message #5: If you want your children to respect you, respect each other

Before the angel visited Joseph, he must have felt devastated by what appeared to be Mary’s betrayal to their marital commitment. Rather than lashing out in revenge though, Joseph chose to pay her back with respect. “Because he’s righteous man, when he finds out that Mary’s pregnant, he’s going to divorce her. But because he’s a kind man, he’s not going to do this publicly and make a show of her,” explains Dr. Stein.

Kopp suggests this foundation of trust and respect made for a strong home. “It would be easy for Mary to trust Joseph after all they’ve been through. He believed in her when she needed it, so she had respect for her husband. When it comes to respect, we build it and we earn it.”

Leman believes this translates over to our children. “Children are always taking emotional and spiritual notes on how we as adults live. How did Dad treat Mom, and Mom treat Dad? Children are always looking up.”

Message #6: God’s children do not belong to you

It was a typical ‘I thought he was with you scenario.’ The group stopped for the night, and Jesus was nowhere to be found. Frantically, Joseph and Mary searched for three long days in the big city of Jerusalem for their son; only to discover he’d been at church. Jesus’ response to his parents? “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

This is the first scriptural record we have that Jesus understood where he belonged. I’m sure it was a wake-up call for his parents. The realization that our children don’t belong to us comes at different times. For some, it’s when their children walk out the door to school, for others, when their son or daughter walks down the aisle into the arms of their betrothed. Either way, parents have to learn children are on loan only for a while.

“Children are gifts from God, not possessions,” says Carol Kuykendall in her book, Learning to Let Go Zondervan. “Jesus himself is an example of a child growing up to fulfill God’s purpose for his life. Imagine his mother Mary standing at the foot of the cross, witnessing the agonizing death of her son. The child she bore and held in her arms was being torn from her in death, yet Jesus had to die on the cross to fulfill God’s greater purpose for his life.”

Kuykendall encourages all parents to cut the umbilical cord, “The Bible tells us God has a plan for our children too. They are God’s children, and we must let go to allow God to guide them toward the discovery of his plan for them.

The Charge

Even today, God continues to bestow earthly parents with the responsibility of raising his children. Maybe we can follow the example set by Joseph and Mary, who relied on an all-powerful God to give them the strength, and direction they needed. They placed their trust in Emanuel, the God who is with us. He makes our parenting significant still.

by Lynne Thompson


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