“Joseph, Who Understood” is the title of a Christmas song by the Canadian indie band The New Pornographers. The painful process of Joseph coming to that understanding is the point of the song.
The setting for Joseph’s questions is hard to pin down. On the one hand, of course it’s set in Israel, but the language allows us to hear this as a very modern story as well. Perhaps it’s something that could have happened in our own parents’ time.
It opens, “Rumors are flyin’ all over Galilee these days / and Mary I’m tryin’ to be cool.”
Joseph’s struggle comes not from the prurient minds of Canadian rockers but from the Bible itself. The Gospel of Matthew tells us this upright carpenter found out his fiancee was suddenly and unexpectedly pregnant. She had a hard-to-believe story for how that came about.
According to the New Living Translation, because Joseph “was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly…he decided to break the engagement quietly.”
That’s not what eventually happened, in the Bible story or (spoiler alert!) in this surprisingly deep song. “Joseph, Who Understood” helps us to understood one aspect of the Christmas story just a little bit better.