19 March 2016

Matthew 1:18-25

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (v. 20)

Psalm: Psalm 89:26-36


There is an assumption underpinning some Christmas sermons that God chose Mary to carry Jesus because she was pious, obedient and surprisingly poetic under stressful circumstances, and that poor Joseph (if he is given much thought at all) just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

However, if we stop to consider, Joseph's role is absolutely vital. Prophecies were fulfilled through Mary ("Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son", from Isaiah 7:14) but also through Joseph, a descendent of King David (see Matthew 1:1-17 and verse 20). On Thursday, we considered some of the things this particular branch of Jesus' family tree might have to tell us about the incarnation.

Perhaps more importantly, Joseph provided vital support for Mary when, by rights, he could have cut and run. Betrothal in Nazareth 2,000 years ago looked rather different from many of today's engagement customs. Usually, the parents of a young man chose a young woman to be his wife. The next step, the betrothal, was a legally-binding commitment that could only be severed through divorce proceedings. During this time, the couple were referred to as 'husband' and 'wife' (v. 19) but were not yet permitted to sleep together. Mary's pregnancy seemed to indicate that she had been unfaithful to Joseph which, under the Law of Moses, was punishable by stoning. Joseph's choice to "dismiss her quietly" (v. 19) is evidence of his compassion - his obedience to God's command not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife "for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" is simply staggering.

Presumably, many people would have assumed that either Joseph had slept with Mary before marriage (thereby breaking Mosaic Law) or that she had been unfaithful and he had chosen to marry her regardless. The Methodist Covenant Prayer asks God to "let me be … exalted for you, or brought low for you". Joseph is perhaps one of the strongest examples of someone who chose to be obedient to God's will, knowing the likelihood that he would be brought low, pitied or held in contempt. Joseph's faithfulness - to God and to Mary - is a model for us all.

To Ponder

  • Try to imagine Joseph's conversations with his family and friends when they found out Mary was pregnant. How do you think he might have felt?
  • Who are the people in your life who have provided you with invaluable support (perhaps at great personal cost)? Take the time to give thanks to God for them.
  • Have you ever resisted a sense of God's calling because you were afraid of what people might think? What happened?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.