Tuesday, December 21

Reader: “All of this occurred” 

Response: “to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet.”

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

    She will give birth to a son,

and they will call him Immanuel,

    which means ‘God is with us.’”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Some thoughts:

Can you imagine the conversation between the couple as Joseph learned of Gabriel’s message to Mary? Would you believe her story? Joseph doesn’t get a lot of ink in the Scriptures. He’s never mentioned in Mark or John. Though Luke refers to him several times, his main focus is on Mary. In contrast, Matthew’s focus is on Joseph giving us the most information about Joseph including his genealogy. Remember, Matthew is writing to Jews to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah foretold of all the way back to Abraham. He further wants to establish that Joseph is of the proper legal lineage of Jesus which is why he starts his gospel with the genealogy of Joseph. (Luke’s genealogy traces to Mary.)

An engagement in biblical times had the same legal weight as a marriage does today. Back then when a couple was “engaged,” they were viewed as being married. So you can see Joseph’s consternation in learning of Mary’s “pregnancy.” Lots of questions in their conversation. In dealing with this passage when I teach at IWS (iws.edu), I give an assignment to my students to write a script of the dialogue between Mary and Joseph as he hears this news for the first time. I’ve read some very interesting conversations as you might imagine!

We learn from Matthew that Joseph was an honorable man, though apparently not convinced of Mary’s story. He knew he was not the father of her baby and he knew that someone else was. His solution was to divorce her quietly and not make her a public spectacle being concerned for her public reputation. Notice when God steps in. As he was mulling his plan over in his mind, “an angel of the Lord” appeared to him in a dream. We learn later in Matthew that “an angel of the Lord” appearing in a dream was  the primary way God communicated to Joseph (2:13,19,22).

In this dream the angel went directly to Joseph’s concern and clarified the matter of the conception. The angel then gave Joseph specific information helping him understand what God was doing. Mary would have a Holy Spirit conceived son to be named Jesus who would save the people from their sins. Matthew then drives home the point to his Jewish readers quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel commanded. Were you to read all of chapter two of Matthew, you’d see that after each of these four “angel of the Lord” dream encounters, Joseph always acted immediately on what he had been shown. He never waited or procrastinated in following through. We read in Luke when Joseph and Mary took the twelve year old Jesus to the Temple for the Feast “as was their custom every year,” that Mary and Joseph were observant Jews and Joseph was a faithful father. (Luke 2:41-50) That incident was the last reference we have to Joseph, who apparently died before Jesus began his public ministry. 

As a postscript, Matthew makes certain his readers know that Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. Then they did have other children, four boys (Simon, Joseph, James, who authored the New Testament book bearing his name, and Judas, who authored the book of Jude) and at least three girls who are unnamed (Mt.13:55-56).

In this passage we are again reminded that God’s ways are not our ways and that what is so clear to us is maybe not what is actually happening from God’s perspective. Later in his gospel, Matthew writes in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Mt. 16:23) That is the perspective we are to strive for, God’s point of view. As you reflect on your life today, be reminded of Joseph. His own point of view led him in the wrong direction. Once he had God’s point of view, he acted immediately and walked in God’s path which lay before him. I venture to say it was not an easy journey with all the innuendos concerning this “unique” son. God never promised our pilgrimage would be easy, but his name, Emmanuel, is a constant reminder that we are never alone.

Music: “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine”       Dale Warland Singers

Joseph, Dearest Joseph mine,

Help me cradle the Child divine.

God reward thee and all that’s thine,

In paradise,” so prays the virgin Mary.

Gladly dear one, Lady mine

Help I cradle this Child of thine.”

“God’s own light on us both shall shine,

In paradise,” as prays the mother Mary. 

He came among us at Christmas time

At Christmas time in Bethlehem

Men shall bring him from far and wide,

Love’s diadem

Jesu, Jesu;

Lo, he comes and loves and saves and frees us. 

Peace to all that have goodwill!

God, who heaven and earth doth fill,

Comes to turn us away from ill,

And lies so still within the crib of Mary. 

He came among us at Christmas time

At Christmas time in Bethlehem

Men shall bring him from far and wide,

Love’s diadem

Jesu, Jesu;

Lo, he comes and loves and saves and frees us.

Prayer:Lord Jesus, far too often I jump to conclusions based on what I see. I find it so easy to  assume that what I perceive is all there is and that what I conclude is correct. Put simply, I leave out the God factor and rely on my own perspective. Throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation people presumed erroneously what you were doing and relied on their own interpretations of various events. Today is no different. Lord God, help us, help me to be concerned with what concerns you. Give us an awareness that what we see and think we know, may not be so. And when we do understand what you are doing in our world, grant that we would act as quickly as Joseph in response. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.     ―Daniel Sharp