They stood like soldiers, ten ladderback chairs that needed my attention. We bought them in stages more than 20 years ago, as Jan and I were first setting up housekeeping in Oxford, N.C., then adding more furniture to fill a larger parsonage when we moved to Boone.

We wanted solid wood furniture but had few funds to spare, so we chose matching pedestal tables made of unfinished oak, along with equally unfinished ladderback chairs with wicker bottoms: solid furnishings that matched our countrified tastes.

I set to work with sandpaper and steel wool, Minwax “Golden Oak” stain and polyurethane, and after some considerable effort, both tables and chairs turned out nicely.

More than two decades and the extra wear and tear that children bring do have an impact on furniture, however. Though solid as ever (except for a couple of chairs that are starting to creak), the finish was fading and the application of permanent magic marker had left some red streaks that couldn’t be removed without serious sanding.

So, once the fall semester at Campbell University Divinity School was over, refinishing the tables and chairs was near the top of my “honeydo” list, just behind painting water spots on the ceiling, edging the flower beds, and the ongoing chore of keeping the leaves from our neighbors’ oak trees under control.

I’m more of a wordsmith than a craftsman, but still find occasional satisfaction in working with my hands and seeing the fruits of manual labor. In this Christmas season, spending some hands-on time with tables and chairs gave me cause to remember the forgotten hero of the Christmas story.

Joseph may have been a simple man, a common carpenter, but there was nothing common about the extraordinary trust in God that led him to play a crucial role in a divine drama he couldn’t begin to understand. Three years ago, I posted a Christmas monologue called “Joseph’s Soliloquy” on the Biblical Recorder website. I was a little surprised to note that it’s been on the site’s “most read” list since last November. For Mary’s husband’s sake, I am grateful.

Thank you, Joseph. You’re the man.

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