The Story Behind “Forgiveness Is a Miracle”

The Story Behind “Forgiveness Is a Miracle”

As I approached writing songs for each of the characters in the Christmas story, I felt particularly protective of Joseph, who I think sometimes doesn’t get the attention he’s due. At the very least I know that I’ve been guilty of not really “seeing” him for the remarkable man that he was, and I wanted 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, 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 girl 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, 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 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. 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 it as a gift from God, in his due time.

Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)
Jason Gray / Andy Gullahorn
from Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy

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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 broken hearted

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
Forgiveness is the miracle
Forgiveness is the miracle

Blessed Joseph
Your heart is proven
And through you the Kingdom has come
For God delights in a man of mercy
And has found an earthly father for his son

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