Scriptures and Reflections for the week of December 4 – December 9
Monday, December 4
“16 …and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah”.
Matthew 1 is the very first part of the New Testament. Here we are introduced to the person of Jesus Christ for the first time, although many prophets of old had hinted at the coming of a special one. This genealogical record shows 28 generations of fathers leading to the birth of Jesus, beginning with Abraham. Since Matthew was addressing a primarily Jewish audience, he wanted to prove that Jesus was in a direct line from the Father of Judaism, Abraham (whereas Luke, writing to gentiles, traced Jesus all the way back to Adam!) Note that Joseph, unlike the others, is not listed as the father of Jesus, but the husband of the mother of Jesus. Joseph seems to be a rather benign character in the story that Matthew tells; he was a faithful man who went along with a story that was unfolding around him. Let’s consider Joseph’s side of the story.
Tuesday, December 5
Matthew 1: 18-19
“18 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. 19 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”.
Jewish custom in Joseph and Mary’s day recognized a state called “betrothal” that fell somewhere between what we think of today as engagement and marriage. A betrothal was more binding than a modern engagement: it could only be broken with an act of divorce. The couple would have been considered as a married couple; however the couple was not to consummate the marriage until the actual marriage ceremony had taken place. If a betrothed woman became pregnant, she was regarded as an adulteress.
At first, all Joseph knew was that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant, and he knew that he was not the father. What disappointment he must have felt in her! The Bible tells us that Joseph was “faithful to the law” or, in some translations, “a righteous man.” It was well within his rights to divorce Mary for infidelity and put her to shame – the punishment for her could have been death. He obviously cared for Mary because the story tells us that he did not want that to happen to Mary, although he still planned to quietly divorce her.
Wednesday, December 6
Matthew 1: 20-25
“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 conceive and 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 did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus”.
Joseph waited patiently for the Mary’s child to be born, not entering into a marriage ceremony or a marriage bed until after the child was born. He did this because of the angelic visit he received in a dream. Do you think he went around telling people about the dream? What would they have thought? Joseph was on shaky moral ground here already, marrying a woman who had already given birth to a son who was not his own biologically. What would it have been like to agree to raise a child who was not his own, especially when he was given so little choice in the matter? To me, this speaks a great deal about the kind of man that Joseph was. He took on the responsibility for raising this child into his faith, into his trade, and teaching him about becoming a man, all the while probably coming under some unfavorable public scrutiny.
Thursday, December 7
“13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
This is the second time we learn of Joseph receiving an angelic messenger in a dream. As before, this messenger called upon Joseph to do something that was certainly not in his plans: to flee to far-off Egypt as a refugee, taking his wife and young child with him. He probably didn’t know anyone in Egypt; he may have been uncertain as to how he might earn a living. And yet, he was faithful. He took his little family and left all that he knew behind.
Friday, December 8
Matthew 2: 19-23
“19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene”.
This is the third and final angelic visit that Joseph received, as far as we know. This time, after settling in to life in Egypt, he was told to drop everything once again and return to Israel. He may have intended to return to Bethlehem or to Jerusalem in order to give Jesus the best possible upbringing, but fear of the new ruler in Judea led him to settle in Nazareth.
Joseph must have felt the sting of not being in control of his own life. Raising a Child that was not his, being told that, in order to save the life of this child, he must leave his home and move to a foreign land, then later being told to move back again: wouldn’t that frustrate us and the plans we make? Has God ever asked you to do something even half as inconvenient as what God asked Joseph to do? How did you – or how would you – respond? In joyous faith? Or with much grumbling? Or would you simply choose not to respond? As we think of the Christmas story this season, perhaps we should remember Joseph with much gratitude for his faithfulness!
Saturday, December 9
“39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him”.
Luke does not mention much of this in his gospel; Mark and John don’t discuss Jesus’ birth at all. Since Luke was not writing for Jews, the references to Jewish law and to exile in Egypt would have been irrelevant to his story. He only says that Mary was betrothed to Joseph and that she became pregnant. Luke goes straight to the time that Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem; according to Luke, this happened on the eighth day. However, Luke goes into some detail about two encounters in the temple that give credence to Jesus’ divinity.
Regardless of the exact timing, Joseph and Mary did everything that was expected of faithful Jewish parents in bring up Jesus. In fact the last time we hear of Joseph is when the family travels to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve. It is quite possible that Joseph was considerably older than Mary and did not live long after Jesus turned twelve. However, Joseph accepted the call that God placed upon him to raise Jesus into a man in a way that would help prepare Jesus for his future ministry on earth. Praise be to God for faithful people like Joseph!