Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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 fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Oh, Joseph. It can be so easy to overlook him. To underestimate the very real fear and confusion he had to conquer, to skip over the costly compassion and audacious trust that he had to muster up and act upon. To forget that, according to the world around him, Jesus was this carpenter’s son.
Jewish communities in the 1st century were built upon extended family, active community, and a sense of loving duty to one another. It’s therefore highly likely that Joseph’s whole future was wrapped up in a local girl that he’d probably known for as long as he could remember.
A girl who was probably chosen for him, by both of their families, so that they could begin their own.
A girl who held the key to all his plans, his expectations, his anticipations.
A girl who returned from a trip to her cousin’s house pregnant with a baby that couldn’t have been his.
A girl he loved and respected enough to let go quietly, with minimal shame and humiliation.
Can you imagine that feeling? Maybe you can, maybe you know it well. Maybe you’re extremely familiar with the feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath you. Because there are those things, aren’t there? Those things that we have absolutely no control over, that come out of nowhere and knock us completely off course.
No amount of planning can foresee them, and no damage-control can touch them.
Scott Erikson, in his book Honest Advent, writes that ‘”be not afraid” could be a legitimate substitution for “Merry Christmas”’. And I reckon Joseph would agree.
Those are the words that God used to calm him, to tell him that despite the way it looked, God had it all in hand and marriage to Mary was still the path ahead. To remind him that he wouldn’t have to face a single moment of it alone.
And those are the same words that he uses for us today, as we approach this Christmas with minds desperately trying to untangle themselves and hearts determined to find some sturdy ground again.
Feeling overwhelmed by the unknown and uncontrollable things this Christmas? You’re in great company. Joseph is a grace-filled and gritty example of what it looks like to give all our trust to the only one who never gets caught off guard.
Man, we really owe Joseph.
Belle works as a reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness
How does knowing God’s presence is with us, even in confusing and overwhelming moments, help us on our frontlines? Join the conversation in the comments below.