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Advent Reflection – Joseph

December 18, 2007

Matt 1:18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"–which means, "God with us." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Joseph was a good man. He had agreed to marry this young woman Mary, and in truth it was no great hardship. She was of good character. Her family were upright and righteous. She was well brought up. So when it came to the formalities of getting married, he would do it right – big wedding, all the relatives, no danger of running short of any food or wine, as sometimes happened to the shame and embarrassment of the groom. No! this wedding would be talked about for years.

Imagine his shock and surprise then to find that the woman who was pledged to him in marriage was pregnant. Initially the tongues had wagged about him, and to be honest people wouldn’t have worried too much about that, after all they were engaged. But he wasn’t sure he could live with it knowing her betrayal. And nobody would really expect him to, I mean, who could plan on building a lifelong marriage on such shaky foundations.

Stories were told in the village of such happenings in the past.  Then the wronged man would shout his innocence from the rooftops and shame the trollop who had been so foolish. And because she was shunned by all right thinking and right living people, the girl was then condemned to an awful life, often in prostitution.

He was angry at her to be sure. And deeply hurt, even shamed, but he didn’t wish that future on her. Not a life condemned to begging on the streets and selling her body. No, he was a kind and gentle man, not one to bear a grudge, so he came to an arrangement with her parents to quietly end the relationship.

As a righteous man he sought to follow the Law of God, and to do the right thing which was what the law commanded. Divorce this woman who had dishonoured herself and him, but do so without fuss.

Imagine his shock and surprise then to be visited by an angel from God to tell him to continue his plans to confirm their marriage. Oh he argued with God. You bet he did. He was doing his best to do the right thing, to make this woman pay for her sins, to prove himself guiltless, but to do so in a respectful way. This after all was what God himself required. Sure the world would fall apart if God would overlook sin in such a way.

But here was God telling him that he, God, was doing a new thing.  Here was a new way of being present in the world. A way that relied more on grace than law.

Boy it was tough for Joseph. People in the village, particularly the men, were angry that Joseph’s liberalising tendencies were upsetting the patterns that had served them well for years. If he let his wife away with things like that, how could they ever set limits for the other women. And the women, well their eyes told it all. They looked with disgust and talked behind their hands. The younger ones sniggered while the older ones harrumphed as Mary passed them in the street with her rapidly expanding belly.

No wonder then that when the Emperor called that census Joseph decided to take his heavily pregnant fiancée with him on that arduous journey to Bethlehem. To be honest, the villagers were glad to see them go, preferring to allow that defiling pregnancy work its way out somewhere else. Joseph took her with him, even though there was no legal need to do so, she didn’t have to be there, the head of the house would suffice to register the family. But this was the best way of getting away from the wagging tongues and the tutting neighbours.

God was doing a new thing in new and odd ways. Shaking the old patterns and traditions. Taking cuckolded husbands and pregnant teenagers and illegitimate children to bring good news and new light. It seems that in this great story he is writing, there is room for everyone.

From → Advent, Reflection

  1. Pistol Pete permalink

    I just posted the beginnings of a story “Many Nights Before Christmas” in which I reflect on Joseph’s experience in the unfolding of events. I do think his acceptance of Mary and her situation is nearly as much of a miracle as her acceptance of bearing the child.

  2. Dan at FLS Ministries permalink

    I also have many previously unmentioned nativity perspectives. I agree regarding the relational observations. It was truly a long gestational period.
    Points of further conversation: 1. Was prophecy, as Supreme as it is, the only driving force behind Mary joining Joseph on his necessary census trip to Bethlehem? 2. Why were Joseph and Mary looking for a room in the inn in the first place?
    Pondering on these issues will reveal the sheer “loneliness” of the situation, both for the parents and the Child. He was ostracized from the womb. Where you? He knows and He cares. Come to HIM. He will never leave you or forsake you.

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