13th Day of Advent
18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
“Mary… Mary… Why have you done this to me? Why have you betrayed me? How could I have so completely misjudged you? You seemed so sweet, so innocent, so upright. And now you’re carrying another man’s child!” Such were the thoughts that likely troubled Joseph in the days after he learned that his beloved bride-to-be was pregnant. His plans for the future were turned upside down. Joyful anticipation had suddenly been transformed into sorrow and anger and deep disappointment.
People disappoint us all the time. But this was no little disappointment. This was a man’s dream of future happiness being cruelly snatched away without warning. This was—or so it seemed—disappointment borne out of betrayal.
If you want a look into a person’s heart—if you want to know the makeup of someone’s character—observe how they behave in a crisis. When cruel circumstances rip away that veneer of outward respectability and good manners, then we get a glimpse of what’s inside. It is at just such a moment that we get our introduction to Joseph. So what do we learn about this descendant of King David?
First, we are told that Joseph is “…a just man…” Other translations render the word as righteous. It means that he was law-abiding, a man who tended to conform to societal norms and customs; an upright man who was generally obedient and faithful to God’s commandments. Solid, steady, upright… these were the words people associated with Joseph of Nazareth.
We learn that he was unwilling to put his would-be bride to public shame. Though he followed the law in his own life, he was unwilling to take advantage of its regulations in a vindictive way in order to punish Mary. However, his high moral standards meant that he could not bring himself to accept an unfaithful woman for a wife. Balancing those moral standards was a deep sense of compassion.
To end their betrothal Joseph had two options. The first very public option was to initiate a lawsuit against Mary. Her apparent adultery (for so sexual infidelity on the part of a betrothed woman would have been viewed) would then become a matter of public gossip. Her reputation would have been forever destroyed.
The second option was far less public. He could simply hand her a bill of divorce in the presence of two witnesses. No public accusations. No court proceedings. Of course sooner or later the truth would have come out. You can’t hide a pregnancy forever. By pursuing this course Joseph actually ran the slight risk that people might conclude that the baby was his all along.
“…as he considered these things.” Joseph was mulling over his options. He appears to have struggled with coming to a decision. Neither alternative was appealing. This is not what he wanted! Emotionally exhausted, he fell asleep… and dreamed.
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” God knew all of the emotional unrest that Joseph was going through. All of the doubts, fears, and concerns. So He sent an angel to speak directly to him! And just like that, all of Joseph’s fears were eased. And being the righteous man that he was, with God’s direction clear, Joseph immediately obeyed.
Questions to Ponder
- What are you like when you are at your lowest? When all the props have been kicked away? When you’ve been hurt and betrayed without cause?
- Do you believe that Joseph was justified in his reaction to the news that Mary was pregnant? Why or why not?