Many years ago as I was pondering plans for the Advent season in the church I was serving as a pastor, I took an interest in expounding on the role of Joseph in the events surrounding Christ’s birth. I have always thought his side of the story was a bit neglected during the Christmas season. The book of Matthew alone gives us any details about Joseph in the story.
Now 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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 [ESV]
I wondered what Joseph might have felt when he got the news from Mary that she was pregnant. I composed this short story trying as best I could to put myself in his place and situation. The word HaShem is from the Hebrew and means ‘The Name.’ It was used by Jews to refer to God, as His name is considered too sacred to say aloud. I call the story, “Being Joseph”
“How could this happen? She has betrayed me! But no, I can’t believe that. Oh HaShem, Almighty God, help me! I don’t know what to do!”
Joseph sits outside of his home on a bench that he had crafted. He stares at the wood slats. He brushes his rough and calloused hands along the grain of the wood. It is a familiar and comforting act. Wood is something pure; something he understands. He wonders why everything can’t be as pure as wood.
“She swore she was pure, that she had not known a man! Yet now she comes and says she is with child?! And what is her explanation? That she has been visited by a messenger of HaShem and she is with child by the Spirit of HaShem! That this child is the Messiah! How can I believe that!”
Joseph sees her in his memory. Just yesterday she came to him with the news. She interrupted him at his workbench, and for a moment he became irritated. Then he turned and saw her face and all irritation melted away. He could not stay upset with her. She was so young. Her face was so fair, yet so plain. A plain, good, pure Jewish girl who had captured his heart.
“Doesn’t she understand what this means? Shame and disgrace will come. The family will disown her. By our law, she could even be stoned to death! How could she do this?! Why did she do this?!”
Joseph remembers her face as she told him the news. Her lips did not tremble. Her voice was steady, unwavering, and filled with sure conviction. She did not even lower her head but looked him straight in the face. Her deep brown eyes were clear and held no hint of deception. And, he remembered something about her face that he could not quite grasp even now. Something that he had never seen in anyone before. A trace of light had framed her countenance as she spoke.
“Was it true? Had she been in the presence of the holy messenger? Had the Holy Spirit of HaShem overshadowed her? Was she a virgin carrying holy seed? NO, it was impossible! Yet, did not the holy messenger tell her that nothing would be impossible with God?”
He has made up his mind. Joseph cannot bear to see her accused publicly. He will arrange a quiet divorce and see as best he can for her care. It tears his soul to think of parting, even under these circumstances. He slumps on the bench, weary with turmoil. Joseph’s eyelids grow heavy and he sinks into an uneasy slumber…and begins to dream.
Joseph could have decided differently. He could have exposed Mary to shame and perhaps death. However, the LORD intervened and Joseph then did two crucial things. First, he believed God and, second, he acted in accordance with the message of God.
The same opportunity is given to everyone today as was presented to Joseph over 2,000 years ago. The best way to celebrate Jesus’ birth is to believe God and act in accordance with His message. A good place to begin is with John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top image courtesy of Alberto_VO5’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License