My family has a unanimously agreed-upon no-Christmas-gifts policy, and my dad hasn’t set foot in a mall since circa 1986, so I was surprised when he told me he had something for me in the basement—something I needed to open before Christmas.
Intrigued, I made my way downstairs to find a large lump sitting on the Ping-Pong table, draped unceremoniously with a black garbage bag. I raised an eyebrow at Dad before pulling back the plastic to unveil the mystery item.
When I realized what it was, I’m pretty sure I squealed louder than I did the Christmas I was eight and awoke to find my pink-and-purple banana-seat bike under the tree. “It’s a stable!” I exclaimed. “For my nativity set!”
Ever since I’d gotten a nativity set, I’d been looking for a stable big enough to fit the figures, but I’d had no success. And since I didn’t want Mary and Joseph and the rest of the crew to look freakishly disproportionate in their Bethlehem abode, thus far the crèche figurines had been without shelter. Until now. Dad, being the handyman he is, had come up with a solution to my dilemma: he’d built a custom-sized stable himself.
My dad, Joseph, the carpenter.
He pointed out all the details of the stable: the ladder that led to the loft, the perch where a bird could sit, the spotlight that would shine on Baby Jesus, the place where he’d had to cover the blood after cutting his finger. His voice grew animated as he told me that the whole thing was made of found materials—scrap wood, paint-stirring sticks, twigs he and Mom had found in the backyard, sawdust shavings from the basement floor.
On my way home that night, glancing at the work of art in the seat beside me, I couldn’t help but think of another Joseph, another carpenter, another father. Why did God pick Joseph as Jesus’ adoptive father? I wondered. Mary features prominently in the Christmas story, but we don’t hear much about Joseph, and I guess I’d always pictured him as her silent sidekick. But surely God had a reason to write him into the story too.
As I thought about my dad pounding and sawing for months leading up to December, it struck me that at a carpenter’s very heart is the ability to believe in a crazy, far-fetched dream. A carpenter is someone who can embrace a vision before it’s a reality, someone who can take ordinary scraps and see them not as they are but as they could be one day. A carpenter is someone who believes the impossible . . . and then gets to work building it.
Thousands of years ago, when Joseph heard his fiancée was pregnant, an angel appeared to him in a dream:
“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph was given a dream that day—a dream made of ordinary-looking scraps: A pregnant girl. A common laborer. A family without clout or fortune or political connections. A community skeptical of his fiancée’s claims. But somehow Joseph was able to take those found pieces and believe that the God-given vision was true: that this baby really would be the Messiah, the promised one, the one who would save the people from their sins.
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
In the face of the impossible, Joseph rolled up his sleeves and got to work, doing his part to hammer a miraculous dream into reality.
So every time I see that stable on my mantel, I’ll think of two Josephs. Like those dreamers, I want to see in the scraps around me the visions God is building in my life. The pieces themselves might not be much to look at on their own. But in the deft hands of the Carpenter, they just might become something beautiful.
God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning