For earlier posts in my Advent series see:
Joseph. Poor Joseph. Sometimes it seems almost as if he is an afterthought in the advent story. Joseph, the husband of Mary. It’s almost easy to feel sorry for him, tagging along with his wife, the mother of the Messiah. What does Joseph do? In most Advent plays, Joseph gets to lead the donkey, and then stand around silently in the background while Mary holds the blessed infant and gazes adoringly at him, displaying him to those who come to worship and wonder. No doubt in reality Joseph played a vital part in raising and instructing Jesus, in providing for the family, and in keeping them safe. No doubt Jesus was delivered into his hands at birth. Did Joseph hold him and marvel at how human he looked?
Joseph gets a little more mention in Matthew’s version of the story than in Luke’s retelling, but do we really understand what he was pondering, and what he was being asked to do?
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 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. 21 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.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1: 19-25 (NIV)
By law, if a woman was found to have committed adultery she was to be taken out and stoned. Joseph would have been fully within his rights to allow that to happen. But Joseph had a quality about him even before the angel spoke to him; he had a quality of mercy. Because they were already contracted to be married he could quietly ask for a certificate of divorce and put her away. She would still have suffered humiliation and rejection, but she would have lived. Joseph was willing to set aside his right under the law to extend mercy.
But God wanted something more from Joseph. He could have given mercy and then gone on his way and forgotten all about Mary. He could have found another wife, one without the taint of adultery about her. He could have lived a peaceful life. God wanted more than mercy, he wanted Joseph to humble himself in obedience. And so the angel appeared, and told him not to divorce Mary, but to actually take her home as his wife.
What must that have required of Joseph? When Mary’s pregnancy became obvious and the gossips started counting weeks, it either made him look as guilty as her or a fool for taking her as wife in spite of the child she carried. It required him to suspend all that he thought he knew about the world and just obey. Mary had the benefit here. She KNEW she hadn’t been with another man. Joseph didn’t know; he could only go on faith, on obedience.
And so he took her as his wife. He humbled himself in obedience.
God doesn’t give the starring role to everyone. But he does require obedience of all of us. Obedience sometimes means being willing to be called a fool. Obedience sometimes means entering the unknown. Joseph, the husband of Mary could teach us a lot about obedience.