Summary: Christmas interrupts the unraveling of your life. Your fears, like Joseph’s, are unfounded, and for the same reason: The child in Mary’s womb!
You’ve got to see this first Christmas from Joseph’s point of view. I mean, his heart was full of anticipation over his recent engagement to Mary. His head was no doubt filled with images of what his life was going to be like, and he saw nothing but blue skies and smooth seas ahead. How could he have known that the first Christmas would get in his way?
We’re not sure how Mary’s condition came to his notice. Did she tell him from the start? Did she begin to show and have to explain it to him? Did he even give her a chance to explain? And, suppose he did. How in the world was he going to believe something as far fetched as the actual truth?
An angel appeared to you? Right. Angels do that all the time, don’t they? Come on, Mary. You’ve driven a knife through my heart. Don’t add insult to injury by lying to me!
Knowing as we do that Mary was telling the truth, we can only imagine how distraught she must have been, that her husband-to-be didn’t believe her and now didn’t trust her. We will have the opportunity in the weeks ahead to look at Christmas through Mary’s eyes, but this week we’re looking at it from Joseph’s point of view, and we can sense something of how crushed he felt that Mary would betray him this way.
And I think it was more for him than disappointment with the way things turned out. After all, Joseph suspected Mary of infidelity, and that likely had the unwelcome effect of leaving him feeling inadequate. He may have thought: Wasn’t my love enough for her? I guess not, and what does that say about me? He may also have lost the ability to trust not only Mary but anyone, at least for a time. He might have asked himself, How can I ever love again? How can I possibly risk another broken heart?
Whatever Joseph was feeling – and we don’t know, do we? Because the text doesn’t tell us – but whatever it was, we know that he was a righteous man. Even though, in his mind, he had been dealt this dreadful blow, even though the foundations of his world had been shaken, even though he had been hurt and hurt deeply, he didn’t seek to retaliate. Mary had wounded him; he wouldn’t do the same her.
In fact, Matthew tells us that he “was unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.” So, he “planned to dismiss her quietly.” It was a noble thing. Back in those days, an engagement was as binding as a marriage, and he would have been within his rights to drag Mary through an ugly and mean-spirited divorce. He could have ruined her for life. But he didn’t. Instead, he was willing to make it easy on her, as easy as he could make it.
I’m guessing that he may have had trouble going to sleep at night. You know how it is when your mind is spinning and you can’t quit thinking about how you got where you are and what you’re going to do now. Joseph’s life had been interrupted – which, I suppose, is an understatement. This isn’t how he had planned things to go at all. He had always been careful. He was known for his sound judgment. How could he have gone so wrong? With these thoughts churning in his brain, he finally drifted off to sleep.
But even his sleep was interrupted. He was awakened by a dream. Nothing unusual about that, but this was an unusual dream. No “visions of sugarplums” dancing in his head! His vision was of something much more frightening: he saw an angel, and the angel called him by name. Joseph, he said, do not be afraid. Joseph, your fears are unfounded. The baby that Mary is carrying is from the Holy Spirit.
Now, think about that. Not only had Joseph’s life been interrupted and not only had his sleep been interrupted, but now his apprehensions had been interrupted as well. His disappointment – interrupted. His suspicions – interrupted. His discouragement – interrupted. His shame – interrupted.
That’s what the message of Christmas does. It interrupts the pain of living – no matter how intense it may be – and it tells you that there is ultimately no reason to be afraid.
Why not? Because the baby in Mary’s womb is Emmanuel, God with us. He is God’s affidavit in the flesh that you will never have to face any difficulty alone. God will be with you.
Over and over in the Scriptures, God assures us of this. In Isaiah 43, he says to you, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” I will be with you, he says. I will be with you.