Read Matthew 1:18-25.
When Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they consummated their relationship, she was found to be pregnant (from the Holy Spirit). Her husband Joseph naturally assumed that Mary had an extramarital affair, and he could have lashed out and put her to shame. But Joseph was a man of God and he desired to exercise mercy. So his plan was to divorce Mary quietly. Remarkable considering the deep hurt he surely felt at this time.
While he was processing all that had happened, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. What is conceived inside of her is from the Holy Spirit. She’ll bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” (The name Immanuel means, God with us. (Isaiah 7:14))
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took Mary to be his wife, although he didn’t come together with her until after she gave birth.
And he called his name Jesus.
You probably noticed Joseph is called Mary’s husband in our passage. That’s because in that culture, at that time, when you were engaged or “betrothed” you were already considered to have entered into the marriage covenant. So in the scriptures, the word husband is used to describe Joseph, and the word wife could be used to describe Mary. In that time, in that culture, divorce was necessary to end the relationship of being betrothed to one another. This sheds light on the way people would receive the news of Mary’s pregnancy before coming together with Joseph. And the one person who would have taken it the hardest would have been Mary’s husband.
I’m so grateful for the way Joseph responded to Mary. Even before his visit from God’s angel in the dream, we see Joseph was merciful and gentle toward Mary. His heart reminds me of an Old Testament scripture:
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God
Micah 6:8 KJV
Score-keeping vs. Mercy
When I imagine myself in Joseph’s place, I wonder what the Christmas story might have looked like. Here’s a situation where Joseph is feeling betrayed by the person he loved most on planet earth. I can often lean away from mercy and tend more toward score keeping even in the best of circumstances. When someone hurts me I’m especially likely to respond by assigning all responsibility for consequences to the one who committed the offense against me. I think my feelings are justified — a righteous anger. I wonder if it were me instead of Joseph in that situation whether I might have packed up all of Mary’s belongings, loaded them on a donkey, and sent her out of town — not so quietly. “You hurt me! You betrayed me! Get out!” And with my heart flooded with that kind of animosity, would I have even been open to receiving anything from God? Would I have dismissed that dream as the result of bad lentils? With my heart flooded with outrage would the angel have come to me at all?
But no, Joseph didn’t respond like that. Joseph’s heart, though wounded, still clung to love, and mercy, and humility. Joseph loved mercy. And Joseph walked humbly. And God came to Joseph.
The Fruit Of Mercy
It couldn’t have been an easy decision for Joseph to move forward and marry Mary. I wonder how many times he wondered if he made the right call. I wonder how many times he second guessed his decision.
But then Jesus came. And everything started to change.
The wise men arrived, having traveled many miles to give gifts to the child king.
The shepherds came worshiping, and sharing news of the angels’ proclamation about the newborn baby.
And in the temple the old holy man Simeon shared that he could now depart this life in peace, because his eyes had seen God’s salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and a glory to the people of Israel. The Messiah, the Lord’s Christ.
And the old prophetess Anna gave thanks to God when she saw the baby, and she told of him to any who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.
Though for a time he may have wondered if he made the right choice, after these events Joseph must have been filled with gladness about the decision he made.
Joseph’s determination to cling to love, and mercy bore fruit in the end. And the way he followed God’s direction in humility, even when his feelings perhaps urged him to do otherwise, resulted in the most profound an amazing work in his life.
It makes me wonder what I might be missing out on when I don’t cling to love, and mercy, and humility. Joseph’s clinging to love and mercy resulted in Jesus at the center of his life. I’ve noticed that people who cling to love and mercy are the same people I see with Jesus at the center of their lives.
“Father, during this Christmas season, come to each of us and help us to love mercy. Help us to live humbly. Help us to cling to love. Help each of us to love the people around us even when the people around us don’t love back, even when they hurt us. Change us Father.
“Jesus, save us from our sins.
“Have mercy on us by helping us to love mercy.
“In Jesus’ name.”