Joseph remembered the stories of old, the story of Abraham sitting under the great oaks at Hebron when the Lord appeared to him. Joshua had prepared a memorial stone and placed it under an oak near the holy place to mark the covenant between Israel and God. An angel had presented himself to Gideon seated beneath an oak. Absalom had met judgment under an oak. Israel’s history was rich in references to the mighty tree.
And now, this particular piece of oak would cradle the Son of God.
Joseph suffered a moment of doubt. The Son of God? Was any cradle he could make, a lowly worker in wood, worthy of God, the King of kings and Lord over all?
But that appeared to be the plan. He’d never forget the appearance of the angel, assuring him that Mary had told the truth—the child growing within her was God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One. And he, the carpenter from Nazareth, was pledged to her as husband.
He brought his best skills to the table. It was all he could offer this coming King. It was all he had.
Joseph touched the wood again, running his hands over every piece, every join. He searched carefully for any flaw, any mark, any roughness that required a touch from the plane that was in his expert hands.
The great tree from which the carpenter had taken this piece of wood would renew itself. It would put out new roots and, with time, grow strong again. He remembered the prophet’s words: “But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.”*
That last phrase sent a shiver down his spine. Would this holy seed, God’s Son who was about to be entrusted to his care, be cut down as he had cut down the oak tree to make this cradle? What had the prophet meant?
One thought connected to another, divinely linked. As Joseph ran his hands over the wood, he also recalled another prophecy. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord…In that day the Branch of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples, the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”**
This was a conundrum to be solved by more astute minds than his. He had best stick to what he, the carpenter, knew for sure—how to work the wood.
However, just as few days later, the cradle was forgotten. The order had been posted. Every Israelite was to return to his birthplace to register. It was a Roman command and impossible to ignore. Mary was close to her time. They would never be able to get back to Nazareth for the birth of the child, and there was no way to take with them the cradle that Joseph had poured his soul into. Who knew what awaited them in Bethlehem, what sort of bed would receive this King? Who knew how long they would have to linger there?
At first Joseph was angry. He had worked so hard. It wasn’t fair! Then he felt disappointment. The beauty that his skill had produced might never hold close the tender and tiny Person Who would someday rule the nations. Later, fear crept in. Had Yahweh rejected his gift, and his skill, as unworthy?
As he pulled the door to his workshop closed, the carpenter looked back at the masterpiece sitting abandoned on the workbench. Another thought collided with, and then overtook, his anger, disappointment, and fear.
The oak was also a place of worship for the pagan nations, he mused. Perhaps I have thought too much about the beauty of the cradle and valued it too highly. Perhaps I thought too much about the skill that produced it. Perhaps the cradle of oak was appreciated, but never necessary. Perhaps all Yahweh ever wanted was for me to say “Yes” to becoming step-father to a King.
Released, Joseph closed the door and turned his steps, and his heart, toward Bethlehem. As he and Mary passed by it, he noticed that the oak from which the cradle had been born was already showing signs of life. It was enough.
*Isaiah 6:13. **Isaiah 11:1-3, 10.