Text: Mt 1:18-25
[Note: the following was presented in the form of a semi-scripted, role-played interview with ‘Joseph’]
A little earlier, we listened to a reading from Matthew’s Gospel, 1:18-25. This is a very familiar story, and yet quite puzzling in many ways. So I thought it would be good if we could get it straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. I’m very pleased to welcome a special guest. Joseph, thankyou for coming along and agreeing to answer a few questions about how the birth of Jesus came about.
Thankyou, it’s a pleasure to be here.
I’m a bit confused about your relationship with Mary. First, Mary is said to be pledged to be married to you, then you’re planning to divorce her, and later she is described as your wife.
In those days, the usual pattern was for a boy and girl to be pledged to be married while they were still teenagers. This was just as binding as marriage itself, and could only be broken by divorce. They might even be referred to as husband and wife. But they didn’t live together and they certainly didn’t sleep together. That would happen a year later, once the wedding itself had taken place.
But it didn’t turn out quite as you expected?
Mary had been away for three months. When she came back and it was discovered that she was pregnant, I was devastated. She was going to have a baby, and I certainly wasn’t the father! I’d been faithful to her, but she’d been unfaithful to me. I’d thought of her as pure and innocent. She’d betrayed me. She’d committed adultery. I couldn’t bear the shame and humiliation of it all. Legally, there was only one thing to do, and that was to divorce her. But, upset as I was, I didn’t want to drag Mary through a messy public divorce, so I decided it would be kinder to divorce her privately. Then I could get on with my life and she… well, she would just have to cope. It was nothing to do with me. It was her problem. I came that close to walking away. Sure, it wouldn’t have been easy for her as a single teenage mum. She’d have been hard-pressed to find another husband, and once her parents died she’d have been destitute. But I didn’t really have any choice. My honour and reputation were at stake.
And yet you did change your mind about divorcing Mary?
I had this dream… it was so real. Have a closer look at what the angel said to me.
“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.”
It must have been a difficult decision for you. Did you ever regret it?
Never. I had to decide which was more important to me, protecting my reputation, or obeying God. You can’t always have it both ways. I’m sure that many of your viewers find themselves with similar difficult choices… I would say to anyone here: do what you know is right, have integrity, believe and obey God, and who knows what you might be a part of?
But why did God put you into such a difficult position in the first place?
Well, of course, I came to see that something much bigger was going on. Have a look again at what the angel said to me.
“Joseph, son of David…”
Did you notice that this story comes straight after a long list of names? Well, that genealogy shows my line of descent through David, the greatest of our kings. Under different circumstances, I might have been King Joseph, and my adopted son, King Jesus. God had promised that someone even greater than David would sit on David’s throne, and here’s the evidence that this was being fulfilled. What else did the angel say?
“Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
This mention of the Holy Spirit showed me that something really special was going on. It was the Holy Spirit who brooded over the chaos at creation. It was the Holy Spirit who breathed life into the valley of dry bones. It was the Holy Spirit who would rest on God’s great deliverer who was to come. God was at work.
“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”
For me to give the child a name at all meant that I was to accept him as my legally adopted son. But the name itself – Jesus – is God-given. And, as you know, it means, “The Lord saves.” You’ve got to remember that our country was occupied by the Romans. So, many of us were hoping and praying for some mighty prince to come along and release us from Roman tyranny. But the angel made it very clear that what God intended was very different: “He will save his people from their sins.” But isn’t that the biggest need, anyway? So often, we want God to deliver us from outside circumstances, when in fact he wants to deliver us from ourselves, from our sins.
Then in the book it says that all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.” God’s purposes were being fulfilled.
I don’t understand exactly what happened, and I don’t expect your viewers to either. But no other explanation fits the facts, than that a young virgin gave birth to a very special child. If it did not happen that way then it means that Mary and I acted dishonourably, and lied about it. If it did not happen that way then it means that Scripture is wrong. If it did not happen that way then there is no explanation for how Jesus could be both truly human and divine – the Son of God. But it did happen that way. God has visited this planet. We have not been left alone to grope in the dark, trying to find meaning and purpose, trying to find God. I was faced – we are all faced – with a choice. We can walk away. Or we can hear God’s word, and embrace the Christ child.
I would say to your viewers this morning, ‘What I, a humble carpenter, once held in my arms you now hold in your heart – the Son of God. How could that be? I don’t know. But there’s no other explanation to be given. No other choice to be made. No other life to live.’