Summary: The news of Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph as a reminder that God has a plan and is with us in troubled times.
Life seemed good for Joseph, he was betrothed to a wonderful God fearing woman, Mary, which in their culture meant they were practically married already except they would live apart while the husband would make a home for them, typically adding a room onto his father’s home. So here was Joseph busying himself with building their future home together, probably the happiest he had been in his entire life. And then everything began to unravel for him. In one fell swoop his plans fell apart. In the movie The Nativity, which came out last Christmas, they depict Mary returning to Nazareth after having spent several months with her also miraculously pregnant relative Elizabeth. Joseph, excited to see her after so many months away, helps her out of the wagon only to discover there is more of Mary than when she left. It was quite obvious to him and the rest of the small village of Nazareth that Mary was very pregnant and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. He knew he had kept his purity. Which could have left only one conclusion in his mind, Mary must have cheated on him, which was equivalent to adultery because they were betrothed.
In a culture which highly valued purity, including virginity before marriage (unlike our own culture), you can imagine how devastated, confused, and betrayed Joseph would have felt. He thought he knew Mary. And then there was the matter of the village gossip, they wouldn’t have known what he knew. They would have assumed Joseph had gotten Mary pregnant, which may not be a big deal in our culture, but in theirs meant disgrace and shame. Joseph’s reputation in the community was at risk. Joseph found himself in what must have seemed like a lose-lose scenario. He didn’t know which way to turn. On the one hand, if he divorced Mary, she would face disgrace, and perhaps even stoning to death according to the Mosaic Law. Even if Mary was not killed, she would never be able to marry again and the child would be raised without a father. On the other hand if he married her, he would be admitting guilt for being with Mary before they completed their engagement period, he would be taking public shame from the community, and he would have to live with a woman whom he believed had committed adultery. It was a no win situation. Life had taken a twisted turn for Joseph.
Like Joseph, sometimes life seems to be going along great, and then wham!! Something hits you which you didn’t expect. Life takes a twisted turn. It didn’t fit your plan, the way you expected things to go. Perhaps someone betrayed you, a friend, a loved one or worse yet a spouse, perhaps your twisted turn was the “D” word, divorce. Maybe your twisted turn was that word from the doctor: cancer, tumor, or perhaps your twisted turn was the pink slip at work, or a close loved one dying. The news is numbing. No matter which way you look there seems little hope. Perhaps like Joseph it seems like a lose-lose scenario, no matter which choice you make someone’s going to lose (or has already lost). Our situation may even seem impossible. There seems to be no way out. You cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When we face situations like these, and we all do at some point in our life, it’s going to challenge our faith. Joseph’s faith was challenged more than we realize. What was he going to believe about God, and his laws? Why was God doing this to him? What was God’s plan? What did God want him to do? Joseph had to make a difficult decision about what he would do with Mary. The Mosaic Law, which God had handed down to Moses, required Mary to be punished by death for her supposed adultery (Deut ). Yet God is also full of mercy and compassion. What should he do, should he follow the Law, or follow his heart, and choose mercy? The Scriptures say Joseph was a righteous man, and he chose to divorce Mary quietly, so she wouldn’t face public disgrace. Joseph was called righteous because out of his love for Mary he chose the most merciful option. He would keep his honor, and most importantly Mary would face the least amount of shame, she and the child would not die by stoning. But the child would still grow up poor and without a father, and Mary would get looked down on by everyone in the village. She probably wouldn’t be able to marry and have children again.
When we face a twisted turn in life it challenges our faith. What are we going to believe about God and his plan? Is God punishing me? Did God forget about me? Did he leave me? I thought God loved me and cared about me. Aren’t God’s plans to prosper me to give me a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11)? If we are honest with ourselves some of these questions can find a way into our thoughts. Through the storm will I trust in God, that he has a plan for good even though I may not be able to see it right now, that he will work out my situation for good if I continue to trust him and follow him?