Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
So you’re engaged – and the engagement ends. Do you get to keep the ring?
Depends – I think – on who breaks the engagement. If it’s the guy – then she keeps it. If it’s the girl – she gives the ring back.
Well that was the law I studied when becoming a marriage counsellor.
What do you make of Joseph and Mary’s muddle?
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (NRSV)
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. (NIV – one of them anyway)
What was the nature of their arrangement? It seems that the English words don’t capture their status. Were they engaged or married? Was does it mean to be “pledged to be married”.
It was more like a two stage wedding. The first was a contract arranged by the parents – a betrothal- a marriage contract in fact which could only be broken by divorce. The second step happened about a year later when the groom actually took the bride home as his wife – that’s when the feast took place. These two phases have specific Hebrew names which I won’t bore you with. The point is it was different from our set up today. We have other issues – partners galore, common law arrangements- and now legally you can marry anyone. Within a week of the new law on marriage here in NZ there were campaigns for polygamy. The boundaries will get pushed again and again.
Last week we reflected on Mary – her soul and spirit response to God in the face of the predicament she finds herself in.
Today we look at Joseph. He was in a corner – a proverbial tight spot. They were in-between the two phases of marriage – a time when they were not living together and certainly not sleeping together. In the literal sense of the Hebrew language he did not “know” her. Remember the passage in Genesis?
Genesis 4:1 says: Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…
Hebrew is quiet a concrete language. The latest NIV generously translates the passage like this:
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…
I digress of course. The point is – there was clearly none of this intimate “knowledge” between these two. (I hope from now on you will not walk around saying that you know people. Could be misunderstood by those who remember anything of this today!)
So here’s this man in a place of panic mixed with distrust of this girl. If it wasn’t him, then who on earth was it?
Well there’s the solution. No one on earth.
There are debates in theological circles about the word “virgin” and whether in the New Testament the word translated simply means “young girl”.
The bible text is quite direct here. Listen again to the NIV version in the pew:
Mat 1:18 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.
Mat 1:20 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.
What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. There it is.
I love the response of this righteous man. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace – because this would be a breaking of the serious code of marriage really! It implies adultery – forbidden by one of the big ten. (Can you remember which one? Between ‘don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is the 7th commandment – ‘don’t commit adultery”.)
But Joseph gets a text – an email – a facebook message? Nope – just a dream – an angel appearing saying to him:
“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.
And of course it gets better:
Mat 1:21 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.”
Matthew reminds his listeners about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which we also heard today. Makes sense – Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish readership or audience.
I love Joseph’s openness to being led by God.
We need more Josephs today – open to the Lord’s leading.
And his obedience is fairly efficient:
Mat 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Mat 1:25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
We need to pray for the men of this nation – and this community too – that they hear God speak into their lives.
I’m sure that Jesus was like Joseph – just like he sounds like Mary in the beautitudes.
Men of God. Listen to His voice.