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, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
By Kerri Stevens
This scripture, titled “Joseph accepts Jesus as his Son,” focuses on the character of Joseph (figuratively and literally) and his role in realizing God’s plan of salvation for humankind.
One can only imagine being told that the person you are betrothed to has been unfaithful and is pregnant, and in a day and age when divorce or death were the only options to break the engagement. According to Jewish civil law, Joseph had the right to divorce Mary and the authorities could have had her stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24). Now imagine being told the child’s father was God. It would be hard to wrap your head around! This unearthly situation defied human logic. Yet Joseph respects Mary – her explanation and feelings towards the expected child – and seeks a way to quietly break off the engagement without bringing further public attention or shame to her. He considers her, not just himself, in what must have been a time of great personal stress and heartbreak.
Nevertheless, it is not God’s plan that Joseph break his pledge to Mary, so he sends an Angel to convey the significance of what is happening. And Joseph’s dream confirms that Mary is indeed carrying the Son of God and he should not be afraid. While Joseph might have thought that divorce or death were his only choices, a third option is revealed to him – to go through with the marriage. And when Joseph wakes up, he takes Mary home to be his wife, names the baby Jesus (meaning “the Lord saves”) and does not perfect the marriage until after the baby is born.
From the start of this passage, we are told that Joseph was a righteous man. Even so, his integrity and willingness to so readily abide by God’s direction in this supernatural circumstance is impressive. He chose to do what was right and tried to do it in the right way, despite the potential consequences of his choice (e.g., social stigma, humiliation). His quick obedience to God imparts the depth of his faith. He trusts God to take care of him, no matter the situation and no matter the path that lay ahead for him. And in doing so, the prophet’s words are realized (Isaiah 7:14).
It is remarkable how in times of uncertainty God can show us possibilities that we could not otherwise see for ourselves; and it is equally remarkable how Joseph’s decision to obey God, not only fulfills God’s will for his own life (being Mary’s husband & Jesus’s earthly father), but the will God had for all of us (that Jesus would be our Savior).
During this time of Advent, may we emulate Joseph by being in close communion with God and sensitive to his guidance. May we be reminded that whether in times of trouble or not, God can show us possibilities we don’t necessarily see. When we obey His word, He will take care of us. And that in fulfilling His will for our lives, we assist in delivering the larger plan God has for His creation. Ultimately, may we readily accept the call God has for us this Christmas season knowing the call Jesus accepted to be our Lord and Savior.
By Dr. Ben Hutchens
Today, our advent wreath departs from the darkness of purple candles to the brightness of the pink candle. It is on this day that we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady has been the subject of myriad composers, both in their personal piety and also in their sheer amazement of the story of the incarnation of the Lord.
German composer and choral director Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” was written in 1964 for—of all things—a firemen’s choir to sing at a choral competition with other work-based choirs (factory workers’ choirs, police choirs, etc.). The piece remained unknown until 1970, when Biebl gave a copy to the all-male Cornell Glee Club on a tour to southern Germany. The Harvard Glee Club soon recorded the work, followed most famously by Chanticleer in the 1980s. Biebl eventually rearranged the work for mixed voices, and his “Ave Maria” is now one of the best-loved and most-sung a cappella choral works of the past half century. This week’s recording is of our own Westminster Choir from last week’s service of Advent Lessons & Carols.