Joseph and Mary were a young couple with a terrible problem.
All young couples have problems — disapproving parents, friends who don’t like the other person, petty arguments and squabbles, or an unexpected family move that separates them.
But I suppose that the most terrifying crisis for any teenage couple, the situation that causes the most anguish, is when the pregnancy test turns the wrong color. Even most NON-CHRISTIAN teens have the sense to know that what they have done is wrong and that they are now faced with a terrifying and humiliating set of choices.
IS THAT THE MOST TRAUMATIC THING THAT ANY YOUNG COUPLE COULD EVER FACE? I used to think so.
And then I gave thought to Joseph’s situation. “The EPT changed color” all right, but Joseph had spent his entire relationship with Mary walking her to the door, shaking her hand good night, and then running and laughing home through the streets of Nazareth. Innocent! In love! A manly young guy who had been careful to remain PURE with Mary.
Oh, Joseph definitely had urges like everyone else, but because of his strong relationship with God, he was absolutely committed to staying pure until their wedding night.
What does it do to a young man to find out that his fiancé (the woman he loves more than anyone in the world) is PREGNANT … when he knows that HE has been pure toward her?
You know, hindsight is always best. After a thing has happened, we can always see what WOULD have been the best thing to do. It might have been best for Mary to tell Joseph what was going to happen before the pregnancy ever began!
And she could have!
When the angel Gabriel appeared to her with that terrifying and wonderful announcement, it was clear that she was not YET pregnant. The angel said (in Luke 1:31), “You WILL be with child and give birth to a son….”
Mary said to him in a sweet way, as if perhaps there must be some mistake, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And Gabriel reiterated that she was not YET pregnant! “The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit WILL come upon you, and the power of the Most High WILL overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).
The angel did not say, “You are pregnant.” He said, “You WILL be.”
What’s your point? Well, it MAY have been better for Mary to tell Joseph about her mysterious situation BEFORE the pregnancy ever began — to rush to him and pour it all out so that when she became pregnant, she could have made it clear that it was NOT her doing but rather the miraculous actions of a sovereign God.
Instead, she responded like so many young women in more SHAME-FILLED circumstances. She quickly left town. Perhaps she needed the confirmation of Elizabeth’s pregnancy to let it sink in about her own. Who knows? Who are we to judge?
All I know is this: when Mary returned home four months later, Joseph (who had been counting the minutes until she got back) received the shock of his life. Mary was heading into her fourth month of pregnancy, and as a teenage girl, she may have been far enough along to begin to show.
Can you imagine the anguish? The sleepless nights? The tears on the pillow? Did Joseph punch walls when no one else was around? Can you picture the angry and suspicious looks that he gave to all of the other young men in town who seemed to innocently welcome Mary back?
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO, JOSEPH? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?
JOSEPH HAD THREE OPTIONS.
OPTION 1: A PUBLIC ACCUSATION.
His reputation would be restored, but she could die! Death by stoning! (Yes, they did that sort of thing in those days.)
Or, if she WASN’T stoned to death, she’d be a single mother all her life, because in those days, no one married an unmarried mother! Mary would have to either be supported by her father or reduced to begging (or worse!) to raise her child. Plus, she would probably always be considered crazy with that story of hers that it was God who got her pregnant.
BUT JOSEPH LOVED HER! PUBLIC ACCUSATION was not an option.
OPTION 2: A QUIET DIVORCE.
In Israel, engagements were so serious that you literally had to divorce in order to break off an engagement!
So Joseph could quietly divorce her! Now this option would protect Mary!
JOSEPH would be the bad guy in the eyes of the townspeople. “IMAGINE! Getting that girl pregnant and then breaking off the engagement! What kind of pathetic jerk must he be?” they’d ask.
But with him NOT accusing Mary of infidelity, he’d take the shame on HIMSELF. After all, who had she been seen with other than Joseph? No one! THAT IS THE OPTION THAT JOSEPH CHOSE.
Here’s how the Bible describes Joseph’s decision: “Joseph was a good man and did not want to disgrace Mary in front of everyone. So he decided to quietly call off the wedding.”
He made a difficult — and terrible — and self-sacrificing choice that would cause him a lifetime of shame to add to his lifetime of suffering. WHAT AN ACT OF COURAGE!!!
BUT THERE WAS A THIRD OPTION.
WHY DIDN’T JOSEPH CHOOSE IT? WHY NOT JUST MARRY HER, KEEP THE BABY, AND PRETEND IT WAS HIS OWN AND THAT THEY’D KIND OF LET THEIR ALONE TIMES GET OUT OF HAND?
If he was going to suffer a lifetime of shame anyway, why not MARRY her and have the woman that he loved?
The answer is astonishing.
The angel, who knew the truth, put his finger on the real reason that Joseph never considered OPTION 3! Joseph was AFRAID to take Mary homes as his wife (v.20)!
Not too angry. Not too proud. Afraid to!
It isn’t that Joseph was afraid to be slandered. In fact, JOSEPH CHOSE AN OPTION AS A RIGHTEOUS MAN THAT REQUIRED TREMENDOUS PERSONAL COURAGE — taking the shame on himself — but it was an EASIER option for him than the option that terrified him.
I believe that Joseph was AFRAID TO BE VULNERABLE TO THE REJECTION OF SOMEONE HE LOVED.
To commit to a woman who had obviously found someone ELSE attractive.
NOTHING ELSE MAKES SENSE. I BELIEVE THAT JOSEPH FEARED THE REJECTION OF MARY MORE THAN THE HATEFUL STARES OF HIS WHOLE HOMETOWN!
There may be nothing more terrifying to humans than making themselves vulnerable to others who may very possibly reject them.
— That’s why women say to me in counseling sessions, “It would have been easier to have been a widow than to face this” when facing divorce or cheating husbands.
— That’s why we hear in the news of men who take their own lives or commit murder/suicide. They believe that even DEATH is easier to face than rejection.
— That’s also why many times partners in troubled marriages will file for divorce even if they don’t want to divorce. They are desperately afraid that the spouse will be the first one out the door, leaving them alone. In desperation, they’d even rather face divorce than rejection when they are convinced that their problems are insurmountable.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Have you known the fear of being vulnerable? Have you known the pain of rejection?
Can you identify with Joseph when he says, “I can take the hatred of everyone in town easier than I can take the fact that Mary loves another man?”
But Joseph did NOT just call off the wedding and move on with his life. SO WHERE DID JOSEPH GET THE COURAGE TO MARRY HER?
Joseph seemed to be a man who was quiet, maybe shy. WE DON’T HAVE A SINGLE RECORDED WORD OF JOSEPH’S ANYWHERE IN THE BIBLE! He was a man of integrity, but the Bible tells us in Matthew 2:22 that he was afraid.
SO WHERE DID HE GET THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE? THE SAME PLACE THAT YOU AND I CAN GET IT! HE TRUSTED GOD!
IT IS ONLY TRUST IN GOD THAT MAKES US BRAVE ENOUGH TO FACE REJECTION BY THOSE WE CARE ABOUT THE MOST.
Joseph had lived his entire life trusting God. So when God told him what to do, that settled it.
IN THE DARK NIGHT OF HIS SOUL, JOSEPH BELIEVED GOD. And everything else he suffered was OK because God had said, “I AM IN THIS WITH YOU, JOSEPH. I WILL MAKE IT TURN OUT WELL.”
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Have you come to the place yet where you can say to God, “I don’t understand why I am going through these trials, but if YOU are in it, I’m willing”?
Joseph never asked for the difficult life he got, but he was rewarded for it.
GOD ALWAYS REWARDS US FOR TRUSTING HIM SO MUCH THAT WE ARE WILLING TO BE VULNERABLE.
Read that last sentence slowly, please.
And Joseph surely received his reward. The boy Jesus who was born that Christmas night grew to be a man without fears. His faith was so vast and intense that fear withered before Him. Never once does the Bible record that He feared anything on earth! An absolute peace surrounded His every move with confidence.
He spent His entire life telling people not to be afraid. No one in Scripture ever told Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.” Perfect love and quiet confidence gave Him a faith that caused fear to just dry up and blow away when He came on the scene.
It is OK to be vulnerable when He is in charge. It is OK to love when He is near. It is OK to risk it. He is a very safe place.
HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH, THAT IF YOU BUILD YOUR LIFE AROUND HIS LOVE, all the other loves in your life will just be icing on the cake, so any other rejection will not destroy you.
And when you no longer fear rejection, you will be free to love fully, because you are fully loved!
PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR, AND WHEN YOU NO LONGER FEAR, YOU ARE FREE TO LOVE FULLY TOO!
King David described God this way in Psalm 68:5-6: “A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families …”
It is His will to set the lonely in families. Are you willing to be vulnerable?
AND WHAT OF OUR FRIEND JOSEPH?
Matthew 1:24-25 says, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a
son. And HE (Joseph!) gave him the name Jesus.”
He got the honor of naming Jesus (Think about that!) … all because he faced his fears!
And I just bet …
that if you and I could have slipped unnoticed into the carpenter shop where that quiet man went about his work …
and heard his quiet praise to God …
it would have sounded something like this …
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
Merry Christmas to all of you. May the peace of God fill your hearts.