At Christmas, not much attention is given to Saint Joseph. Much time is spent considering the Virgin Mary and Jesus her Son. But Joseph is mostly just a figure standing behind them in the Nativity scene.
Joseph is worthy of notice. He was a righteous and loving man, as we see in his behavior toward Mary, his espoused wife.
In those days, to be betrothed was as binding as marriage. Joseph and Mary had not yet come together to live in one home, nor was the marriage bed consummated yet. But Holy Scripture calls Joseph Maryís husband, not a fiancť, as we would say today.
In those days, as today, those who followed Godís Law waited until the wedding day to share a bed. Joseph and others like him, both then and now, recognize that the Lord God has reserved the wedding bed for marriage. As far as he knew, Mary was a faithful Jewish girl who would also wait for marriage.
She was. However, circumstances gave the appearance that she was not so righteous after all. She was found to be pregnant. Of course, Joseph was no dummy. He knew where babies come from, and knew what Mary had done, or at least, what he thought she had done. In every case in history except this one, he would have been right.
In the Law of Moses, a husband was allowed to divorce his wife if she was found to have committed sexual immorality. Perhaps Joseph as her husband might have simply forgiven his wife Mary and gone on with the wedding. But she showed no sign of repentance.
Of course we know why she was not sorry. She had done nothing wrong. This was all Godís plan. In fact, it was The Plan of all history. This was the crucial moment when God became Man to save the human race from sin, death, and satan. Mary probably, in her own humble way, was happy that God had chosen her to be a part of His salvation plan.
But Joseph saw no plan. He saw only a young woman who had fallen into sin and showed no sorrow over it.
In this, Joseph is not acting as a heartless man, or acting out of the rage of betrayal. Many men would have acted that way. Joseph is different. In anger, he could have exposed her to public scandal. In a fit of self-righteousness, he could have reasoned that she deserved whatever shame she received.
But no, Joseph planned to secretly divorce her. This would be difficult. People knew that they were betrothed. To break the betrothal would require explanations and secret arrangements. It would require a lot of work and sacrifice on Josephís part, and what would he gain by these secret efforts? Only one thing Ė to spare Mary disgrace.
So we see love from Joseph, even when he (for all he knew) had been betrayed. We see compassion from him towards Mary, even when she (in his eyes) deserved a life of public shame.
Only later does Joseph find out the truth from the Angel of the Lord. But that does not end Josephís problems. Mary at this point was at least three months pregnant, since she had secluded herself with her cousin Elizabeth for that time. When the Baby came, He would be very early. People were not dummies. They would figure things out. They would undoubtedly jump to the logical conclusion: Since Joseph did not break the betrothal, the Baby must be his. It is doubtful that most people would listen to explanations of the Virgin Birth. So Joseph would probably have to share the scandal that he had hoped to spare Mary.
Still, he does it. He is obedient to the Angel of the Lord. He takes Mary as his wife and shoulders the responsibility as her guardian, whatever hardship and humiliation would have to fall on him.
To some extent, all husbands and fathers ought to be this way. Too often, we fall short. May we men be so loving, and so obedient to Godís Word.
The Lord did no less for us. When we had most certainly committed many shameful acts, the Lord could have simply abandoned us. That is what we deserved. We were supposed to be faithful only to Him. Yet we went running after every false idol that could entice our fickle hearts. We deserved the public disgrace of falling under Godís judgment and being cast away forever.
He could have simply acted out of His justice, and given us what we deserve. He could have let His anger break forth against us. He would have been perfectly justified in doing so.
But instead God had compassion on us. Out of love, He did not want to treat us as our sins deserve. He made a plan to rescue us from the disgrace of our sins. It was a secret plan, a mystery hidden for long ages until He revealed it in the Virginís Son. He became flesh. He became one of us. He became Man for our sake.
Although becoming a Man was not humiliation in itself, He had to go through all kinds of things that were humiliating. He had to endure the indignities of being a helpless infant. He had to bear the pains inflicted by the sinfulness of people around Him, many hurtful words and malicious actions. He had to suffer sickness and sorrow, hunger and thirst, growth and loss, and everything else that goes along with being one of us. He subjected Himself to the life of sinners, even though He was not a sinner.
Even that was not enough. He had to fulfill every last Word of promise that He had made for the sake of His beloved people. He exposed Himself to the public shame we deserved. He made Himself a spectacle, a scandal, a sign of foolishness as He hung upon a Cross. He let all the guilt and disgrace of all sin fall upon Him, so that it would not fall on us.
For this reason He became a Baby. This was the plan all along. To save us, shameful sinners, He took our flesh and lived our life. For this reason, a Virgin was pregnant with a little Boy.
Now that He has removed the shame, we are His beloved Bride. We are betrothed, so to speak, yet He has not yet brought us into His home, the eternal Paradise of the new heaven and the new earth. To show us that the shame is gone and that eternal joy is in store for us, He rose from the dead, never to die again. He rewrote the script for how human life works, starting with the Virgin and the Manger. This is the promise for all who believe in Him.
In this way, the Baby proclaims the merciful love of the Father in heaven, who sent Him. We glimpse the perfect plan of grace in the God who would rather become one of us and die than see us lost.
In his own way, Joseph displays these qualities of mercy and love. The earthly guardian imitated the heavenly Father.
May we also imitate the love of the Father as best we can. May the Spirit guide us to protect others in mercy, rather than expose them to shame. May we do all this, reflecting the glorious grace of the Christ Child, who chose to be born for us.
In the Name of this True God, and to His honor alone, who has done all things perfectly and faithfully for us shameful sinners. Amen.
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