Advent mid-week 1
3 December 2015
Characters of the Nativity
Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke assert that Jesus was born to Mary at a time when she was betrothed to Joseph, before their marriage was consummated (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27, 35).
Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), and was known as a “just” man (Matthew 1:19). When he learned that Mary was bearing a child, he was understandably disturbed. When he learned that she was to become the mother of Israel’s Messiah through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, he proceeded with his plans which brought him, with Mary, to Bethlehem where the child Jesus was born. 
Through circumstances and influences beyond his control Joseph was given his place in history. What lessons can be gleaned from his life’s story? Our text answers these questions this evening.
1. Joseph is a man of profound conviction tempered with compassion.
He knew of two realities. First, Mary to whom he was engaged was expecting a child. He also knows he is not the Father. Our text reminds us“…Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (v.18)
Joseph, being a just man, tried to conform his life to the Jewish law. “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.” (v.19) Here we see Joseph’s dilemma. Whose reputation, he pondered, should be tarnished Mary’s or his own? That was the issue with which he was wrestling. Joseph felt betrayed, he loved Mary, yet he didn’t want to “expose her to public disgrace.”
If he were to continue in the relationship most people would simply conclude that after they were engaged but before they were married - she was expecting their first child. There would be some embarrassment. It would be awkward. But hopefully, in time the humiliation would subside. But could he trust her? What guarantee would he have that she would disappoint him again?
If unfaithfulness was a part of her character what would be the consequences in the future? If word got out that he had married her, knowing full well that the child was not his, what sort of aspersions would be cast in his direction!
What he planned to do was to use the most private form of a legal divorce, handing a letter to Mary in the presence of only two witnesses to whom he needed not give his reasons.
When we must choose – choose wisely. Often we are forced to make decisions in life in which the outcome will not necessarily be pleasant. When we have to choose “the lesser of two evils” as Joseph, we need to wrestle and pray. Actions do have their consequences. Joseph did not act rashly. Decisions reached hastily are often ill advised. Patience is needed when the situation is serious.
2. Joseph also learned that we are placed in these challenging circumstances for God to do His best work. Divine intervention was necessary in Joseph’s situation. “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.” - Matthew 1:20
The angel reminded Joseph of the greatness of his ancestry to assure him that his resolution was right insofar as Joseph knew the circumstances. Joseph knew of only outward circumstances. The Lord sees beyond these things. It is His responsibility to act.
It was Joseph would name this child. He would be given the name “Jesus” which means literally - ‘God saves!’ - For this Jesus is the Christ and He will save His people from their sins. The salvation from sin through this child Jesus is what Joseph and his family had hoped for so many generations. God was about to act and Joseph would see it. Not only would this child be called ‘Jesus’ but also “Emmanuel” – ‘God who is with us’ – the manifestation of God who is in our midst.
3. We see that Joseph is a man of profound faith. Joseph’s faith is seen and demonstrated in his immediate obedience to the commands the angel gives him. “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
Joseph came to know a profound truth. God is with us. So often we may live our lives with little awareness of how close God really is to us. The reality of our Christian existence is this: God is with us. It took a life changing moment in Joseph’s life to come to this conclusion.
Tonight God is saying to you - in all of life’s circumstances and in all of life’s decisions “I am with you” for this Jesus whose birth we celebrate this season is ‘Emmanuel’ – “the God who is with us” –He is ‘Jesus’ - “the God who saves”