I love country songs, partly because they often tell a story. Brad Paisley’s country song He Didn’t Have to Be tells the story of a single mother who is hoping for a remarriage but potential suitors are put off by the fact that she has a little son. The little boy cannot do anything but watch helplessly as each hope for happiness gets dashed by suitor after suitor. Finally, a gentleman graciously asks the mother to bring along the boy to their date. That gives birth to a bond of love and appreciation between him and the boy, which leads to the man becoming the boy’s stepfather. The boy grows up well in the love of and acceptance by his stepfather. In time to come, the boy himself gets married. As he looks at his newborn, he prays that he will be able to be at least half the dad that his stepfather was even though he “didn’t have to be”. He could have backed away like the other suitors, but he chose to be the boy’s father and to love him. He chose to be what he did not have to be.
This song reminds me of Joseph of Nazareth—the silent and almost invisible central character in the Christmas story. He also made a choice that “didn’t have to be”. He could have backed away from his marriage to Mary. Instead, he undertook willingly and obediently what could arguably have been the most impossible task in the universe (Matt. 1:24-25)—to be the “stepfather” of the Son of God. He was obedient, at a great personal cost, choosing to be what he did not have to be. As a result of Joseph’s obedience, the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, as prophesied in Micah 5:2, and God’s plan for the salvation of humankind was fulfilled.
The call to participate in God’s work must not be seen as a burden. Instead, it must be accepted with the total submission that God expects and deserves from His children.