This time of year, the familiar faces of the Nativity come alive once again: the long-searching wise men, the surprised shepherds, and of course, Mary and the baby Jesus. One more face is often present in manger scene, but largely forgotten for the rest of the story: Joseph.

Ron Deal of Family Life Blended says the story of Christ has special resonance for many parents when we consider Joseph’s perspective.

“Joseph is this upstanding, reputable young man who has dedicated his life to the service of the Lord and to living righteously. He’s called upon to marry a woman of difficult reputation, and to lose his expectations of house and home, the honor-ability of what he was creating.”

“He lost the respectability of his life, he’s going to lose social opportunities because of his choice. They’re going to live with this reputation. And he decided, out of respect for the Lord, to take all that on.”

In particular, Joseph’s sacrifice is a powerful reminder of the special challenges for many parents in blended and adoptive families.

” When I think about Christmas and families that have adopted children, the foster families that have gone out of their way to take on responsibility and obligation not their own, stepparents who step into a situation and circumstances they don’t get the control — they have to embrace what is, good, bad, or ugly. Those are challenges there, and Joseph did just that.”

The struggles didn’t end after Jesus was born. For the first several years, Joseph had to fully rely on God’s leading as his young family fled for their lives. They ran first to Egypt to escape Herod’s army, then upon returning to Israel, now in danger from Archelaus, they had to flee to Galilee, ending up in Nazareth.

“This is not part of Joseph’s plan for his life: it’s sacrifice after sacrifice, after sacrifice. He had to trust God, and he had to act on it: to take everything that came along with it.”

Consider another moment Luke records when Joseph and Mary lose 12-year old Jesus in the busy city of Jerusalem.

“Jesus is in the temple–for four days, they don’t know where He is. When they finally find Him, they ask “What are you doing?!” Literally, Mary says “Your father and I have been in great distress searching for you!” Jesus essentially reminds Joseph, ‘You’re not my dad,’ when He says  “Didn’t you know I have to be in my Father’s house?”

“Look at it through Joseph’s eyes. The next thing scripture says is ‘Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus was saying.’ Again, another reminder, you’re not the dad.”

“Now, I don’t think Joseph resented all that, but he’s in great distress over where his son is, and he’s reminded that his concerns, his fears, his desires, and his thoughts of well-being for his son are not the primary consideration.”

“It’s more sacrifice: he’s forced into a situation where he has to sit back and say, ‘This is out of my hands.’  Joseph did that over and over again, and I know foster parents, adoptive parents, stepparents live that over and over again. Joseph is an unsung hero, and I think there are many unsung heroes in our presence each and every day.”

This Christmas, may we recognize, encourage, and walk alongside the Josephs in our own lives, who are daily laying down their lives in service to their families and our Father.

Ron Deal is the founder of Smart Stepfamilies, Director of Blended Family Ministries for FamilyLife Blended™, and an expert in remarriage and step family relationships and therapy. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor who frequently appears in the national media.

The unsung hero of the Christmas story