I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar. In the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, you’ll read about my life, yet not one word I spoke has been recorded. I was never a man of many words, but still, I’m grateful after all these years for this opportunity to tell you the story of the birth of Jesus, the Christ. Perhaps you already know something about my life, but there may be more to my story than you had thought of before. I was given a great gift, the greatest gift in the world: to witness the birth of the Messiah, God coming into this world as one of us. God with us!
Mary and I had known each other since childhood, though I was a number of years older than Mary. It was quite common in my day for a man to be promised to a younger woman, and I had my eye on Mary for several years. When it came time to consider marriage, I asked my father to arrange a marriage with Mary, daughter of Heli, son of Matthat. That was the way it was always done in my day. There was no courtship. Everything was arranged by our parents. I knew in my heart that Mary would be a great gift from the Lord, and took delight in the day I would become her husband.
In our tradition, the engagement, or period of betrothal lasted nearly a year. The announcement of the engagement was a public ceremony which was as binding as a marriage, though during this time the engaged husband and wife did not live together. Still, I was known as Mary’s husband and she was known as my wife. Once the marriage agreement was entered into at the time of engagement, it could not be ended without formal divorce proceedings. Any infidelity during the engagement period was considered adultery.
Shortly after our engagement, Mary traveled to the south, to the hill country of
Mary was gone several months. During this time, I devoted my energies to my work. I work with my hands. I am a builder. A craftsman. In my heart, I was missing Mary everyday, yearning for the day she come back to
Late that night, I still couldn’t sleep. My mind and heart were racing. I am a God-fearing Jewish man. I could not marry a woman who was already pregnant. Had she been unfaithful, involved with another man? It seemed impossible. Had she been used wrongfully by someone along the road? I was full of confusion, torn between my love for Mary and my desire to make it all go away. In
I greatly loved Mary. Yet, there was no going back. Mary was truly pregnant. I would ask to divorce her, in accordance with the law of my people. But I would have it done privately, quietly, not publicly. It would be a quiet, legal procedure, before two witnesses. I would declare that I didn’t approve of Mary as my future wife, and give her a written declaration of divorce stating that we were both free from the bond of marriage. And then, I would help Mary relocate to another town, perhaps with her kinswoman Elizabeth. Mary would still face the shame of her pregnancy out of wedlock, but our plans for our future together would be over. This course of action seemed to be the only way forward. I could think of nothing else, though my soul shook with fear at the thought of losing Mary.
Finally, having come to a difficult decision, in the depth of night, exhausted, I fell into a deep sleep. That night, the angel of the Lord appeared to me in a vision. The Lord spoke to me saying: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Mary has never been unfaithful to you. The child which is now within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary will bear a son and you, Joseph, are to call him Yeshua, “Jesus”, because he will rescue his people from their sins.” In our language, the word to save, deliver or rescue forms a common name, the name Joshua, Yeshua, or Jesus. Our names have meanings, and sometimes these meanings are the special gift from God for which that child has come into the world. “Jesus”, the one God has sent to save us from our sins, rescue us from darkness, and deliver us from evil. Thanks be to God! As the prophet Isaiah declared long ago, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death, a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He will be pierced for our transgressions, he will be crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace will be upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” “Yes, Joseph, you are to call his name, Jesus, the one who comes to save us from our sins.”
The angel told me this was all to fulfill what the Isaiah had spoken of long ago, predicting the coming of the Messiah: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel—God with us.” God with us. Think of these words. God with us. That God would choose to come be with us is quite a thought, something that filled my night-time soul with such radiance and hope!
When I awoke, I was not sure if I had dreamed a strange dream that would vanish like morning mist, or if I had heard the very voice of the Lord. What good news to hear! Then a sense of my shortcomings slowly crept over me. I had not asked Mary about the details of her pregnancy. I never let her explain. I simply assumed I knew the whole story. In my heart, I regretted that I had assumed the worst of my bride. That morning, I went to Mary and confessed to her my heart asking her to forgive my foolish, thoughtless ways.
As we sat together, her eyes welled up with tears of joy as she told me of the visitation from the angel of the Lord. Just as the Lord came to me, God had sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, telling her, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. Mary, you will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. I will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” I discovered that Mary’s story was the same as the one which came to me in the vision from the angel of the Lord. We were both uncertain what it all meant. They were strange words. But we knew what God wanted us to do.
Mary and I went ahead with our plans to be married. I took her to be my wife, and she moved from her family home into my home as was our custom. As a sign of our trust in the Lord our Provider, we slept in separate rooms and did not consummate our marriage until after the birth of our son. At the time, only Mary and I knew the secret of the gift God had given to Mary. As so Mary gave birth to a firstborn son, and according to the heavenly message given to us from God, we called our son Jesus. But where and how he was born, well now, that is a story all of its own.
At the time of his birth, I was honored as legal father of this child, to pronounce his name at the naming ceremony, the name given to us by the Angel of the Lord, the holy name of Jesus, the One come to save us from our sins, rescue us from darkness, deliver us from evil, bringing all God’s sons and daughters back Home into the Lords’ everlasting kingdom in heaven! At this name, as recorded in the Holy book, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, who is to be praised forever and ever. Amen.
1. Adapted from a dramatic monologue by Bruce Goettsche, based upon Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-56
2. Painting by Fra Angelico, “Annunciatory Angel