And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:19
Joseph found himself in a dilemma.
He was betrothed to Mary of Nazareth. They are in the middle of a period of time from their engagement day to their wedding day that was designed to assure that no sexual sin has been committed.
Yet we know that Mary is, indeed, pregnant! When she found out she was going to be a mother – and the mother of the Messiah, no less – she seemingly immediately left Nazareth for the hill country of Judea.
Not to hide, though. She had heard that her cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant. Both pregnancies are miracles from God. Both know this because it has been revealed to them.
But did Joseph know? Probably not yet.
When Mary returns, she is three months pregnant. She is not visibly pregnant at this state, but Joseph finds out that she is. She must have told him.
Joseph is a “righteous” man. He is serious about his relationship with God and does his best to keep God’s Law.
His dilemma is that God’s Law says that a woman who has committed adultery – which he obviously thinks Mary has done – is to be stoned to death.
Yet, Joseph loves Mary deeply and would spare her this fate. So he resolves to dissolve the marriage with a legal divorce without divulging the reasons why he is doing so.
Their marriage is over before it even really begins. I can only imagine how devastated Joseph must have felt. Mary maybe even more so as she’s going to have to raise this child by herself.
But before either of them go down this road of pain and devastation, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph.
I imagine that Mary explained to Joseph how this happened and how she knew – that the angel Gabriel had appeared to her.
This is why Joseph is told, nearly word for word, what Gabriel told Mary.
Both are told that the baby is conceived by the Holy Spirit and that the baby is to be named Jesus. But more on this in a future devotion.
Joseph, because he loved God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength, was both unwilling to marry Mary and unwilling to have her executed.
He was unwilling to marry her because he thought she had broken God’s Law. God’s Law was very important to him.
Some would call Joseph a zealot, or a fanatic, or even an extremist, for holding this view. But I prefer another word: integrity. Joseph believed in God. He believed that God’s Word was the truth. He was unwilling to compromise this belief even though he obviously loved Mary very much.
He wasn’t an extremist because he was unwilling to also have Mary executed, even though God’s Law permitted such a punishment. Again, integrity. He didn’t want Mary hurt even though he had been hurt deeply.
Today, the news is full of stories of the vindictiveness of people. If they are wronged or hurt, they lash out against their antagonists. We see it on the roads, we see it in court rooms.
But Joseph has such a deep and strong relationship with God that he doesn’t do this. Even though the Law is on his side!
He will not compromise his beliefs by marrying Mary, but nor will he willingly cause her harm.
This, too, is part of the Christmas story and our Christmas journey. So this, too, is something that I will be working on more earnestly – to believe in God but also to do no harm to my neighbor even if it is justified and allowed.
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