Joseph found himself in a complicated and stressful situation. His soon-to-be-wife had just told him she was pregnant. And he knows he’s not the father. Yes, Mary told him an angel had told her she was going to miraculously become pregnant and give birth to the Savior of the world, but if you were Joseph, would you initially believe her? I mean, of all the stories about getting pregnant, that was probably a new one!
According to the law, Joseph had every right to expose Mary’s supposed unfaithfulness and publicly shame her. But Joseph was a good man. In the midst of being hurt, confused, and maybe angry, he could have loudly and publicly ended his betrothal with Mary. He could have damaged her reputation.
Instead, we read an example of compassion and mercy instead of judgment and condemnation. To save Mary from humiliation, he planned to handle the situation privately, only involving the bare minimum of people. Yes, following the law would mean he should divorce her, but there was no need for it to be a spectacle.
His plan would change, however, when he heard from a certain messenger about what was really happening. This is from the gospel of Matthew, toward the end of chapter one:
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.
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 [Isaiah]: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:18–24)
So Joseph wakes up from this dream, and he still has a choice to make. He’s been told he’s about to enter into something very complex. Even after hearing God was at work, he knew he was in store for a very different kind of life than he anticipated. We can’t really put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes. But in that culture, what he was being told to do would take a tremendous amount of courage.
Would he lean in and allow himself to stay in a messy situation, or would he quietly back away from the story? Mary couldn’t really back out of her part, but Joseph still had the option to bow out. Maybe he asked himself, What is the most loving thing for me to do? Matthew tells us what he did:
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)
So here’s a question: Is there someone in your life who you’re tempted to quietly walk away from? Maybe those around you would even say you’re right to dismiss them. But consider what God might be orchestrating behind the scenes. What if you asked yourself, What is the most loving thing for me to do?
Heavenly Father, thank you for the story of Joseph. In the middle of a situation that was messy and complicated to say the least, he lovingly walked toward the mess, rather than running away. Help me to have eyes to see the messy situations around me and to be willing to lean in with love. Amen.
Joseph found himself in a complicated and stressful situation. His soon-to-be-wife had just told him she was pregnant. And he knows he’s not the father.