I was thinking about Joseph, Jesus Christ's step-father (so to speak), this morning. I'm often impressed with how little press Joseph gets at Christmas time. The average Christmas celebrator knows more about the little drummer boy than Mary's husband, Joseph. Granted the Biblical material about the man is sparce, but, still, little is done to mine what is there.
I'll get back to Joseph in a moment.
Have you noticed that in our world it seems that Christian people congregate on the extremes? One example--matters related to moral purity: In the last week I heard about a local pastor who spoke about unmarried, cohabitating couples as bringing shame to the church; they just shouldn't attend. Granted the report was a step or two removed from first-hand information, but I have been around long enough to know that the sentiment is too common. I know of other pastors who imply by their actions that there is no difference between those who live together sans-matrimony and those who wait for the wedding.
It seems that we congregate on the extremes. Sorting out that difficult middle position is tough. I'm not saying that the middle is always right, but my experience and observations lead me to believe that more often than not the extremes miss the mark.
Joseph was a guy who sought to honor realties that were in tension. He is called a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). Yet his actions show that he was also a compassionate man. When Joseph first wrestled with the news that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant he had not heard anything of the divine miracle that had resulted in the virgin-conception. He was committed to do what was right, and he was likewise motivated to do that which was kind--or at least that which would be the least harsh.
He allowed the tension that resulted from the pull of these two competing interests to lead him to a righteous plan that was tempered by kindness and a kind plan that did not violate God's standard of purity.
When I look at the Joseph figure in the creche I am reminded of this balance, and the price that this righteous man paid to achieve it.
It is not the main story that is portrayed in the manger-scene, but it is a side-plot worth looking into.