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What Joseph Teaches Me About Forgiveness

December 18, 2012

Jason Gray Nativity revised copy

As I approached writing songs for each of the characters in the Christmas story, I was especially excited about looking into the story of Joseph. Most of my life I haven’t really known what to do with him and it seemed to me that he was more a part of the scenery—standing there without much to do—than he was a central character. As I spent time considering him, Joseph quietly emerged from the shadowy background I had relegated him to and I realized that I had failed to “see” him for the remarkable man that he was. This song was my chance to amend that. I enlisted my friend Andy Gullahorn, one of the most masterful storytellers I know, to explore a particular moment in Joseph’s story with me.

Taking my cue from Frederick Buechner’s book, “Peculiar Treasures,” in which he breathes new life into biblical characters who have grown so familiar to us that we no longer experience them as real human beings, I hoped to recapture some of the humanity of the people in the Christmas narrative. It was also important to me to try and write songs that were relevant beyond the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. I wanted to tell timeless human stories, and with Joseph we have the makings of just that with a love triangle, heartbreak, a question of revenge or forgiveness, and the age-old drama of fathers and sons.

As I read his part in the narrative, I found that more than just a foster parent without much to do (as he was often relegated to in my mind), Joseph is revealed as a man after God’s own heart. Faced not only with the news that his fiancée is pregnant, but also with her incredulous story of how it was God’s doing, Joseph’s character is tested and laid out for all of us to see. What will he do? Will he hurt the one who has hurt him? Will he forgive? This is his moment, and all of history waits and watches in wonder.

There are few things more painful than the betrayal and rejection by the one you love most, so we know it must have deeply wounded him—shattering the dreams he may have had of a future with the woman he loved. Pain is like a lightning bolt striking with a violent energy that can’t be held in the human heart for long. It looks for a way out. The way it usually passes through us is in the all too common progression of hurt turning into anger and then into vengeance. Unless the miracle of forgiveness takes place in a person’s heart to absorb it, the pain we experience will pass through us and be visited upon others.

There is debate as to whether it was within Joseph’s power to have her stoned—while Jewish custom might have allowed it, Roman rule did not. However, if not to her body, we know he still could have done violence to her reputation and her heart. But I believe that Joseph did the hard work of bringing his pain to God rather than letting it pass through him to others, and that God graced him with the miracle of forgiveness. The narrative tells us he was a “godly man” and that instead of doing her harm, “he decided to dismiss her quietly” so that she wouldn’t be publicly shamed. He took the full force of the blow and–acting as the husband he might have been–became a covering over her supposed sin.

It’s hard for us to experience the tension in Joseph’s story since, as the reader, we know from the start that she isn’t guilty of what he naturally supposes and that God is up to something beautiful that the world has never seen before. But to see Joseph for who he is, I have to remember that he couldn’t know these things in real time. It was only after he had given himself to the work and miracle of forgiveness that the angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him that what Mary had said was true after all, and that he should marry her.

It occurred to me that perhaps this is where Joseph’s heart was proven—if not to God who already knew his heart, then perhaps to himself. (I haven’t met a man yet who isn’t daunted by the responsibility of being a father, let alone a father to the Son of God. Maybe this was a test to reveal to Joseph what kind of man he could be.) In this moment he is found to be a man of mercy, which I imagine to be just the kind of man that God was looking for to be the earthly father of his son Jesus. In a way, we see that Joseph carries in his heart the same world changing power of forgiveness that Mary carried in her womb.

It’s also meaningful to me to think of how Joseph forgiving Mary is part of the story that leads to the birth of the savior in whom Joseph would find forgiveness for his own sins. Perhaps it’s the narrative form of Jesus’ teaching that as we forgive we find ourselves forgiven.

As we wrote the song, it was good to be reminded that forgiveness is a kind of miracle. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that we can muster up forgiveness on our own. Have you ever tried to forgive someone? It seems to me to be a supernatural force of renewal that we participate in as we point our hearts toward it, pray for it, and make room for it in our lives, but that ultimately we receive as a gift from God, in his due time.

I imagine we all have someone in our lives to forgive, whether a friend, a spouse, a parent, or otherwise. While the Christmas season truly is the most wonderful time of the year, it can also stir up difficult memories—especially as we find ourselves spending time with people with whom we have unresolved conflict. My hope with this song was that as the season surfaces these kinds of wounds in us, Joseph’s story might help start an inner conversation with the Holy Spirit that might lead people to the healing miracle of forgiveness that God would like accomplish in our hearts.

May the miracle happen in me wherever un-forgiveness holds me captive!

Listen to the song here: 

Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)

Jason Gray / Andy Gullahorn
from the album “Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy”

Love can make a soul come alive
Love can draw a dream out of the darkness
And blow every door open wide
But love can leave you brokenhearted

Did she dare to look you in the eye
Did her betrayal leave you raging?
Did you let her see you cry
When she said the child was not your baby?

Pain can turn to anger then to vengeance
It happens time and again
Even in the best of men
It takes a miracle to save us

When love is like an open wound
There’s no way to stop the bleeding
Did you lose sleep over what to do?
Between what’s just and what brings healing

Pain can be a road to find compassion
When we don’t understand, and bring a better end
It takes a miracle to show us

Forgiveness is a miracle
A miracle
And a miracle can change your world
Forgiveness is a miracle

An angel in a dream spoke into your darkest night
So you trusted in the Lord and you took her as your wife
But the forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you
Because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb

Love was in a crowded barn
There you were beside her kneeling
You held it in your arms
As the miracle started breathing

Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
And a miracle will change your world
Forgiveness is the miracle

Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
A miracle will save the world
Forgiveness is the miracle

You can buy Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy here

Jason Gray HeadshotJason Gray is a singer-songwriter whose music has taken him from intimate venues to sharing the stage with some of Contemporary Christian Music’s biggest artists, but his onstage candor and honest songwriting connects him to audiences across the country, night after night. After growing up as a chronic stutterer in an abusive home, Jason developed a passion for telling honest stories about weakness through his songs and encouraging people to let go of shame and remember their identity in Christ. He spent nearly a decade as an indie artist before signing with Centricity Music in 2007, and is a contributor to The Rabbit Room. Jason lives in Minnesota with his wife Taya and three sons.

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