Travelling Towards Christmas
2. Joseph, betrothed to Mary
Hello again. This is the second talk given by Jim Harris in our series, ‘Travelling Towards Christmas.’ It’s about Joseph, betrothed to Mary.
We meet and learn about Joseph in both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the birth of Jesus. He is the quiet man in the story but also a spiritual person who wished to live his life and make his decisions in accordance with God’s will. Please read Matthew 1:18-25.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant 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 me 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 conceive and 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.
Jewish society at that time had an arrangement for approaching marriage called ‘betrothal’. It was a kind of engagement period, in which the prospective bride and groom lived under the same roof but did not consummate the relationship sexually. That was reserved for their wedding day. Mary was pledged in this way to be married to Joseph. It is likely that he was older than Mary, as there is no mention of him during Jesus’ adult ministry. Perhaps he’d died before Jesus reached the age of thirty, which was when he went public.
Joseph’s role was secondary to Mary’s; nevertheless it was an important one. It was also a dangerous role he had to fulfil.
First of all, there was the possibility of public rejection and the stigma of Mary’s pregnancy during the betrothal period. Then there was the need to travel for registering at Bethlehem, followed by the flight into Egypt when king Herod went on the rampage at the suggestion of a ‘King of the Jews’ being born. Finally, there was all the caring and providing for the family’s welfare once back safely in Nazareth, a town that had its own social problems.
Sometimes he is called the ‘caretaker father of Jesus’, given the responsibility of protecting and providing for God’s Son, for as long as was necessary. Joseph had some fine spiritual qualities and the one we’ll look at now is that of ‘sensitivity’.
In the first place he was sensitive to Mary’s needs. He’d heard her side of the story but, even so, felt it necessary to divorce Mary because of apparently improper behaviour. But he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace being, as Matthew puts it, ‘a righteous man’. Being righteous can sometimes carry a hard edge to it, but not with Joseph. With him, it carried a sensitive understanding of Mary’s situation. That may suggest that he wanted to believe her story but had no way of verifying it.
Whatever, Joseph was clearly sensitive to Mary’s needs. He was not consumed with the selfish and self-justifying attitudes that characterise so much marital and pre-marital discord in our day.
Then, he was sensitive towards receiving and responding to God’s messengers and, beyond that, to the Lord himself. When Gabriel came in a dream and confirmed what Mary had told him, he did not hesitate to accept and her and her condition, respecting the situation fully so that there would be no interference with what God was bringing to pass. His sensitivity is described in this way, ‘He took Mary home as his wife but had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.’
It is interesting that most of Joseph’s guidance came through dreams. Clearly that was right for him in God’s will, but the only certain way to know God’s will for our lives is to be familiar with the teaching of Scripture, letting experience confirm it in practice. We must be sensitive to God speaking through his Word.
Finally, he was sensitive to the situation in which he, too, was placed and wanted to do only what was right in God’s eyes. He didn’t let the world around him squeeze him into its shape. His actions were not dictated by other people’s view of what constituted right conduct. Quite the reverse; Joseph took decisive action as a man of faith and principle. He did what the Lord wanted. We should admire Joseph and follow his sensitive example.
Here’s another question to think about as we travel towards Christmas.
Are my attitudes and actions shaped by the world I live in or by the ‘living and enduring word of God.’ (1 Peter 1:23)