Stories aren’t the same when you know the ending. That’s one of the difficulties with the Bible. Many of the stories are familiar. We are looking at them thousands of years after they occurred. It makes it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the characters. We forget what it would have been like before the ending was known.
That happens with the birth of Jesus. We look at the Christmas story through the lens of the nativity. We know that Joseph was at the manger side when Jesus was born. But what about before that? Have you ever thought about what it was like for Joseph before the angel came to him in his dream?
With Zechariah and Mary, an angel came to them to announce pregnancies before they happened. With Joseph, an angel came after he already knew.
It was Mary who broke the pregnancy news to Joseph. I cannot imagine what that conversation was like. Mary’s nervousness. Joseph’s disappointment.
They were pledged to be married- a pledge so strong that a formal divorce was needed to break it. Mary was a virtuous girl. Someone who knew God’s law and knew God. I wonder about the questions running through Joseph’s head. The shock. How could Mary do something like this? How could she betray God? How could she betray him? What was he supposed to do now?
I’m sure Mary told Him about the angel. About the miracle. But how could Joseph be expected to believe something like that? Would you?
I’m not sure why God did not give Joseph the forewarning. Perhaps because so many before him had taken matters into their own hands when they heard of promises like this. (Remember Abraham and Hagar?) Perhaps because Mary needed to trust in God and not in Joseph on this journey of becoming the mother of the Messiah. Perhaps because Joseph needed to wrestle with the decision of what to do before God told him what to do.
Eventually, Joseph came to a decision.
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 faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18-19
Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly. He could have exposed her to public disgrace. He could have punished her for bringing such shame and betrayal to him. He showed his love for God by choosing the way of grace instead.
Then God showed his love to Joseph by revealing the rest of the story.
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 name 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 did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:20-25
What did Joseph feel when he got up from that dream? Relief? Awe? Fear?
The angel answered Joseph’s questions. But, the angel also told him more. The angel confirmed that it was not just Mary that was chosen, it was also Joseph.
In Jewish culture, it was the role of a father to name a child. In revealing Jesus’ name to Joseph, the angel was revealing Joseph’s role. He was to be the Messiah’s earthly father.
And, just as Mary had responded in faith, so did Joseph. He woke from the dream and he obeyed. He took Mary as his wife and Jesus as his child.
I’m sure Joseph still had questions. How does one father the son of God? But He also now had something he could look back on to remember. To remember that God had chosen him for this role. To remember that God was with him.
To remember that Jesus’ birth means Immanuel.