The following is a fictional account of Matthew 1:18-25. Hope you enjoy this brief meditation.
Joseph fell asleep early that evening. He deserved an extended rest. The 12 hour days of building houses took its toll on his body. And besides, sleep would be an escape from the fact that his life was in turmoil. Joseph grew to love his fiancé, but the fact that she was pregnant devastated him. Joseph didn’t need a 1st century Maury Povich to tell him that he was not the father.
How could Mary do this to him? Joseph knew, as people throughout history have known, that sex is the only way to become pregnant. But they hadn’t done the deed. How could she betray him like this? And didn’t she know the risks? She could be killed! Besides, if she wanted to be with another man, why didn’t she just say so? Joseph would understand. He loved her enough to let her go.
In fact, Joseph decided to do just that. He was righteous, which meant he followed the law as best he could. His neighbors admired him for his righteousness. Sure, people interpreted the law in various ways, but Joseph thought it was clear. In this situation, Mary had to be with the other man. But Joseph loved Mary unconditionally. He didn’t want to cause her any public shame, so he decided to dismiss her quietly. But he was exhausted from work. So, before he sent Mary on her way to be with her true love, he decided to call it a day.
Joseph quickly fell asleep. The angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and said, “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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph woke up suddenly. Catching his breath, he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and wondered, “Was it just a dream? Was that really an angel of the Lord? Save people from their sins? Wait!?! People don’t get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. That’s absurd!”
Then Joseph remembered the ancient Story of his people, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Could the same God now create new life inside of Mary’s womb?
Joseph decided to trust his dream, but he was afraid. After all, how would he explain this to his parents? “Hey, Mom … So, like, Mary is pregnant, but no worries. An angel came to me in my dream and said the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Oh, and he’s going to save people from their sins. So, it’s all good. NBD.”
Who would believe that ridiculous story? And what about his neighbors? Nazareth was a small town. Gossip spreads like wildfire. If Joseph stayed with Mary, he would lose his public reputation. He would no longer be “righteous.” The town would turn against them and they would both experience public shame.
Joseph was afraid, but his dream inspired him with the faith that love is bigger than fear. He realized that the law to “love your neighbor as yourself,” was far more important than any law that led to division, exclusion, or shame. In fact, his dream taught him that the law and the prophets hinge on the command to love God and love your neighbors. True righteousness meant risking public shame in the name of love. So, despite his fears, he chose to love Mary through the difficult days ahead.
The child was born a few months later. Joseph named him Jesus. Rumors spread that he was an “illegitimate” child. But Mary and Joseph loved Jesus through the taunts and ridicule. Over time, the boy grew in wisdom and stature. He surprised even religious scholars with his insights. Most importantly, he learned that his parents loved him. He also learned that, no matter what others thought about him, he could trust in the love of God.
Joseph taught Jesus what he learned from that dream so many years ago. The angel of the Lord convinced Joseph that the command to love was more important than anything else. Jesus knew his father’s words were true, and he carried them with him throughout his life.