Joseph, Do Not Be Afraid

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”


which means, “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.
[Matthew 1:18-24]

A11013.jpg

French 15th Century, The Expectant Madonna with Saint Joseph, c. 1425/1450, tempera on European walnut, Samuel H. Kress Collection.

Well, this must have been awkward.

Joseph and Mary are pledged to marry. They’ve probably gotten to know each other a bit. They’ve no doubt registered for wedding gifts at the Nazareth market. The stage is set for a long, happy life together.

And then, she turns up pregnant.

This would be an uncomfortable situation today, but it no doubt was far worse given the cultural norms of the time.

You kind of want to know Joseph’s initial reaction, as well as how Mary prepared to break the news. Did she just blurt it out? What was the conversation between them?

“I’m pregnant. But don’t worry, it’s from the Holy Spirit,” his bride says.

“Uh…what?”

He must have felt betrayed. He probably thought she was delusional. He may have rolled his eyes, raised his voice, or both.

Although they technically were not married yet, they were in a phase where they were legally pledged to one another. Her action would have been considered adultery.

We don’t know what the exact conversation was like. But we do know that it seems to have left Joseph unconvinced that Mary was telling the truth.

Joseph has the inclination that many might have: I’ve got to get out of this. He wanted a divorce (to remove himself from the situation) and he wanted it to be done quietly (to save her some dignity – and perhaps prevent a death by stoning, which would have been an adulterer’s fate).

He had a few options at this point, neither of them good. Divorce put her life at risk. Going forward with the marriage put his dignity at stake, since the community would know that they had not yet formally married. Either he wasn’t the baby’s father, or they had engaged in premarital sex.

Most of the Christmas story is focused on Jesus and Mary. Luke tells this portion from Mary’s perspective: The angel appears before her to say that she will bear a son, and she shall name him Jesus. Joseph isn’t mentioned at all, other than to note he’s engaged to Mary.

Matthew is the reverse: This passage is all through Joseph’s perspective. The angel appears before him: Don’t worry. Mary is pregnant, but it’s through the Holy Spirit. He is the one who is told to name the baby Jesus.

When Joseph wakes up, he is a believer. He does as the angel instructs, and he takes Mary as his wife.

There are many miracles we look to this time of year. As a husband and a father, I am certain that Joseph’s understanding is one of them.

Listen:

“The Cherry Tree Carol”, traditional
Performed by Sweet Bread

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