In this study, you will understand how Joseph's place in the nativity story is much like our own. In life, we encounter circumstances that we would have never chosen for ourselves. At times it can be tempting just to walk away. Joseph provides us a great example of humbly obeying God even when we don't understand and faithfully moving forward in the strength that God provides.
Exchange your doubt for courage this Advent and Christmas season.
Learn to accept and glorify God's will even when circumstances make it difficult to do so.
This Youth Study Book takes the ideas presented in Adam Hamilton's book and interprets them for young people grades 6-12.
About the Author
Adam Hamilton is senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country. The Church Report named Hamilton’s congregation the most influential mainline church in America, and he preached at the National Prayer Service as part of the presidential inauguration festivities in 2013.Hamilton is the best-selling and award-winning author of Creed, Half Truths, The Call, The Journey, The Way, 24 Hours That Changed the World, John, Revival, Not a Silent Night, Enough, When Christians Get It Wrong, and Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, all published by Abingdon Press. Learn more about Adam Hamilton at AdamHamilton.com.
Read an Excerpt
A CARPENTER NAMED JOSEPH
When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, "Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? Isn't he the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother named Mary? Aren't James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? And his sisters, aren't they here with us? Where did this man get all this?"
Typically when Christians explore the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus — often during the Advent season — they focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and on Luke's account of the Christmas story, which is told from her vantage point. But our focus will be on Joseph, his life, and his role in the birth and life of Jesus. And that means our biblical focus will be on Matthew's account of Christmas, which is told from Joseph's vantage point.
No man played a more important role in Jesus' life than Joseph. Though not Jesus' biological father, Joseph adopted Jesus as his son. Joseph protected him, provided for him, taught and mentored him.
We don't often hear about Joseph, because there is relatively little in the Gospels about him. They contain only a handful of stories around the time of Jesus' birth, and a couple of passing references to Jesus as "Joseph's son" later in the Gospels. (The Gospel of Mark doesn't mention Joseph at all.) Nor will you find anything about him in the Acts of the Apostles or any of the Epistles.
So we have to read between the lines to fill in the picture of Joseph's life, and to some extent we must use our imagination to connect the bits of information we do find in the Gospels. As we do this, we will find that there's more than meets the eye in the New Testament accounts of Joseph's life.
In Mark's Gospel, the people described Jesus not as a carpenter's son but as a carpenter himself. That tells us that Jesus was trained by his father. It seems likely that Jesus worked as a carpenter, first in his father's shop and then on his own, likely from the time he was a small boy until his baptism at age thirty.
What does it tell us that God chose a carpenter to serve as Jesus' earthly father and raise Jesus as his own son? With Joseph, as with many other examples throughout the Bible, God chose a modest and unlikely hero for the most important job — in this case, the mission of raising the Messiah.
When I think about Joseph's story, what strikes me is that the person whose birth we celebrate at Christmas was in large part shaped by his human father (or stepfather, or adoptive father, or foster father — each of these terms might fit). It seems likely to me that Joseph intentionally taught and modeled love, faith, and fatherhood, and that what Jesus learned from him shaped his life and ministry.
— Adapted from Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph
Reading and Reflecting
Rules, Tools, and the Coming Yule
When I was a kid, a lot of our basement was dedicated to carpentry.
In my experience, Dad always had a shop of some kind going in the basement where he could work on small projects. I spent a lot of time as a child in the important role of Stand right there and don't move, helping Dad and sometimes Grandpop do something to wood. Together they made the dining room table where we ate for most of my childhood.
That table is still being used: my older brother's family has it in their dining room. When my family visits them, we inevitably look for the place where my name is visibly indented in the tabletop. It was angrily pressed there by my heavy-handed pencil through some homework I didn't want to do: Kevin Scott Alton, in that huge early-elementary lined-paper style.
Dad and Grandpop built our kitchen table as well. That table ended up rotting behind an apartment where my younger brother once lived. He didn't have space for it and accidentally returned it to the earth through neglect. It sounds sad, but it's okay. It was wood. Wood doesn't mind.
Really, a lot of our furniture was made by Dad. There was an Ethan Allen furniture store near our house. Mom would pick out something she liked in their catalog, and Dad would head down to Ethan Allen to measure and draw it, then come back and build it. I still use the desk he made for Mom when I work from home.
I always loved the process of watching things turn from a pile of wood in the garage into a functioning part of our home. Big planks were biscuit-joined, glued together, and clamped until the glue oozed out like syrup. Then the lights would go out and everything just sat for a few days, which always seemed like an eternity. Eventually Grandpop would turn back up; they'd scrape the dried glue from the joints and sand the rough wood to a silky smoothness. Whatever they were building would take shape, sometimes overnight. Stain. Varnish. Furniture.
There were several Christmases when my brothers and I were informed at some point, "Christmas is under that drop cloth in the corner," meaning that if we peeked, we'd ruin our Christmas surprise. Not a problem for us. Meaning that we looked under the drop cloth whenever we got a chance. We'd watch it take shape and report back to each other. The most common report was "It's nothing. It's still just wood." What is it with Advent and waiting?
As I was reading Adam Hamilton's book this year, pondering the advent of Advent (get it?) and preparing to write this book, I've had the oddest question rolling around in my head: At what point can someone officially be called a carpenter?
I'll give you an example of what I mean. A year or two ago there were several incidents of clowns hiding in the woods with ill intent waiting for people walking by. I forget where it started, but quickly there were copycat situations popping up of people getting mugged by clowns. One instance in particular stands out to me: a sheriff's department released a statement intended, I suppose, to distance whatever had happened in that county from what was happening other places. The statement indicated that their incident was unrelated to the others because the perpetrators were simply "people dressed as clowns." Social media's ears perked up; my favorite response to the statement on Twitter was something to the effect of, "This does beg the question, What IS a clown?"
Even if you're a little freaked out by clowns, that's pretty funny. But it goes to the issue of identity that I'm asking about carpenters. When can you call yourself a carpenter? Do you have to be paid for your work? Is just being good at it enough? And why, in Matthew 13:54-56, is everyone so concerned with whether Jesus' father was one?
Chip, I Believe You Know Block ...
We sometimes learn from our parents when they teach things, but more often we learn from them when they do things. In fact, most of what we really learn from our parents is by observing them when they're not paying attention, like watching how they respond to bad news or how they accidentally swear at burnt popcorn in the microwave.
In Adam Hamilton's book Faithful, he reports asking some of his Facebook friends for reflection on what they had learned from their fathers. Here are some of their replies:
My dad taught me by word and example to never stop learning and always be there for your child. He passed away eleven years ago. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him.
My dad embodied compassion. He taught me and modeled for me what it means to truly care for and love others.
My dad taught me honesty and integrity — he did it by example. You could take his word to the bank.
My dad was the model of courage as he lived with the effects of polio he contracted when he was three.
My dad was a former boxer and he taught me, "You gotta roll with the punches" and "You gotta bob and weave," which is what I've done throughout my life.
My father believed our place on earth was to help others and to take care of those who are weak or too small to defend themselves. ... I have never questioned how I became a social worker.
With these comments in mind, it's fascinating to think about Jesus and Joseph. Even though Joseph is not often mentioned in the Bible, we can imagine some of his qualities by reading about Jesus. Maybe Joseph liked spending time with friends. Maybe he enjoyed making little children laugh. Maybe he was patient and kind. Almost certainly he had a strong faith in God.
Joseph's character is interesting because we're curious about a person who was a primary initial influence in Jesus' life and then disappeared quickly from Jesus' story as an adult. Though we don't know Joseph well, it's clear in our passage from Matthew that he was a critical lens through which the people around Jesus viewed him. They knew Joseph and wondered, "Who is this guy? I mean, just for starters — isn't this the carpenter's son?" (from the KEV, better known as the Kevin version).
So for my money (and yours, apparently), this Joseph character is worth checking out. Stick around and we'll explore him together.
Cup Runneth Over
Read Nehemiah chapters 1–2.
Carpenter is just one of many jobs mentioned in the Bible. It might be worth reading and thinking about some of the other jobs, and how those doing the jobs might have been described by others.
Nehemiah's job as cupbearer to the king might sound a little pish-posh on the surface, but there are a couple of things in the background that you might not know about. He probably hadn't exactly aspired to the job; in fact, his ancestors had been exiled from Jerusalem many years before, so he found himself in the foreign city of Susa, serving a foreign king.
And Nehemiah's brother had brought some bad news from Jerusalem. The city had fallen after a long siege, and its conquerors had basically turned the place into a dump and left. Nehemiah, heartbroken, asked and was granted permission to return and help restore the city, beginning with rebuilding the wall. Imagine how people in Susa must have reacted to the news about Nehemiah that filtered back from Jerusalem: "Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to try to rebuild it? Isn't he the cupbearer?"
When have you found yourself longing to do something of real value?
Not to put yourself in a box, but is there a quick, one-word description of you?
Do you like that description? If you do, what job does it suggest you might enjoy and be good at? If you don't, what could you do to change the description?
Apollos Gets Told
Read Acts 18:24-28.
This passage sounds like some standard early-church action. In those days, the gospel essentially went viral. As you know, when something goes viral online, the original meaning of a post can often get lost as it is repeated. And the more it is repeated, the worse it can get mangled.
Some of that was happening with the good news of Jesus: those spreading the gospel would occasionally butt heads about what Jesus had taught. (This actually wouldn't be the last conflict involving Apollos.) The disagreement in this case was between Apollos and a tentmaker couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who had been forced to leave Rome because they were Jews.
Thinking of Jesus' reception in Nazareth, it may well be that if you had gone to Rome back then to share these verses, you might have bumped into some Christians asking, "Priscilla the tentmaker?"
Priscilla and Aquila went on to meet Paul in Corinth and ended up joining his work — and transcending the expectations of others.
How has the good news of Jesus changed your life?
How do you handle disagreements with others on matters of faith?
One of the most familiar stories in the Bible has Samuel visiting the home of Jesse to anoint the young nation of Israel's next king. Samuel showed up looking for the biggest, strongest, good-lookingest dude he could lay eyes on, but one by one God turned down each of Jesse's sons. Familiarize yourself with the story in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. (I'll wait.)
It's always interested me that David was such an afterthought to his own father, but that's not the point. David would quickly go from tending his family's sheep to defeating the champion of a rival nation in a one-on-one battle. You can probably see where this is going: "Goliath was defeated by David the shepherd?"
We don't get any sense from Scripture that David had any doubts about his own capabilities. What opportunities have you had in the past, or might you have in the future, to surprise others with your God-given abilities?
Making It Personal
So, what does all this have to do with Christmas?
The point is that people weren't expecting anything special from Jesus. Beyond that, they had long ago given up on waiting for what Jesus turned out to be: God in flesh, come to usher in the kingdom of God.
Of course, you and I have the distinct advantage of hindsight. It would have been extremely difficult to accept the idea that someone standing right in front of you was God. For example, I'm God. Seriously. God writes books, remember? Okay, I can tell that you don't believe me. It's partly because you shouldn't; I'm not God. But it's also because you're not expecting God to show up. That lack of expectation can sometimes make the truth harder to see.
Advent is a time when we remember not just to look back upon but to anticipate God's movement in our lives. My hope is that this year you're able to do that as you learn to redefine (or rediscover) the person God has made you to be.
Sharing Thoughts and Feelings
Spend some time with a group discussing these questions:
What role have parents or other family members played in your faith formation? Who first told you about God?
Where do you turn when you've got deeper questions about faith?
How has your family situation shaped who you are and what you think you might want to do with your life?
Where do you see God at work in your life? Where else can you look for God?
When have you surprised yourself about what you're capable of accomplishing?
Doing Things Together
Minor Character Flaws
Supplies: Internet-capable devices
Today we'll play a game that could also be called "That Girl from That Thing." In the game, you'll go around your group and take turns describing minor characters from movies, TV, or books — you know, the ones whose names you can never remember. Only the person speaking gets to use the Internet.
To find your minor character, pick a popular movie, TV show, or book and then look up a character list. Pick a minor character that you're familiar with and begin to describe him or her. Don't give away the movie, TV, or book title. In fact, don't even acknowledge if someone says the title. The game continues until someone can guess the name of the character or actor that you're talking about.
Twist: While you're describing the character, slip in one fake detail that isn't true. Then, after the name is revealed, see if anyone can think back and catch the fake detail.
Play for about fifteen minutes or, if you have more time, until everyone has had a turn. After the game, discuss these questions:
What's the most challenging thing about trying to remember minor characters?
Do you have a harder time remembering character names or actor names?
Who is your favorite minor character from Scripture? What do you wish you could know about that person?
What details do you wish you knew about Jesus' family or his childhood?
Your Mom Did What?
Supplies: None. Isn't that nice?
This will actually be more fun if you can have your parents join the group. I know; ewwww. But really, try to do it. It's not essential, but it helps.
If parents are present, have them take turns listing all the jobs they can ever remember having — paid, unpaid, awesome, terrible; it doesn't matter. What matters is the list. In a similar fashion to the previous game, let the parents know that at some point they should sneak in one job that they didn't hold. The fake job can be believable if they wish, but don't get in the way of their fun if they pretend they were sword-swallowers in the circus.
After each parent offers her or his list, let the group guess the fake job. Obviously, if it's your parent, don't participate in the guessing.
If your parents aren't there, you can still play the game by getting their job list in advance and presenting the list yourself. Same deal with the list: sneak in a fake. Then let the group vote on which job they think is made up.
After you've played, discuss these questions:
(If parents are present) Which of your jobs was your favorite, and which was your least favorite? Which best aligned with who you feel you are as a person?
(If there aren't parents present) Which of the jobs we listed sounded the most fun? Were any of the real jobs surprising to the group?
What are some of the different ways that people decide what kind of work they will do?
Joseph passed his profession on to Jesus. Is there any expectation that you'll repeat what your parent does for a living?
Excerpted from "Faithful Youth Study Book"
Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
1. A Carpenter Named Joseph,
2. Whose Child Is This?,
3. Raising a Child Not Your Own,
4. The Journey to Bethlehem,
The Rest of the Story,