Summary: Continuing Christmas series. A look at Joseph, the way his plans were submitted to God's.
All through these days, weeks, months, Joseph has been making a plan.
God knew what He was doing when He created marriage and made it the central place where mankind would be reproduced, and nurtured. Little boys will grow up to become young men. Young men will feel the urge to establish their own place in the world. Can we assume that was true of a man named Joseph?
Preparing a home, and the thought of taking on the responsibility of a wife and family stir something deep inside chest of a man. He begins to dream big dreams. He finds himself motivated to work hard - to do whatever it takes to turn over the page over to the next chapter of life that lies ahead.
In Genesis 29, when Jacob agreed to work 7 years to be given Rachel to be his wife, it says that those years “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” I would expect similar kinds of emotions flowed through the heart of Joseph, the carpenter in Galilee.
“…had been betrothed to Joseph.”
There are the unwritten parts of these verses this morning when it says Mary “…had been betrothed to Joseph.” Sometime before - maybe days, maybe months - Joseph had asked permission to take Mary as his wife, parents had consented, and Mary had also agreed. In that culture, an engagement lasted about a year. All during that time, the groom would be busy, preparing the place that they would call home together. In that culture, an engagement was a very serious commitment - serious enough that to break off an engagement required divorce papers. That means Joseph was as good as married in the eyes of people in his world, and in his own eyes.
Maybe Joseph was building a home by hand. We know he made a living by being a skilled tradesman. I can picture Joseph, marking off the living space in the house, building walls, thinking about living there with the woman he loves. I can picture him, setting up a workshop, starting to set some money aside. He probably thought of children, maybe grandchildren. Dreams for the future. Those help a little boy grow up into a man.
“…before they came together…”
During this period of preparation, Mary would have been planning too. Probably the date was set for their formal wedding and feast. While they were legally bound by their engagement, they still weren’t living as if they were married. This was something else Joseph was planning for. He was kept for one woman and looking forward to the day when they would finally move into the place he was preparing. For now, they were waiting.
Then, out of the blue, everything changed. Mary was “found to be” pregnant. While she was adjusting to the news of this miracle, Joseph wasn’t. His planning went from preparing for the rest of his life to just getting through this difficult part of it.
“…unwilling to put her to shame…resolved to divorce her quietly…”
Who can blame Joseph for the changes he began to plan? He was betrayed by his bride, and now he’d also face the public shame. He’s described as a “just man” - a good man who was going to try to handle a bad situation in a good way. He didn’t want to cause Mary difficulty, and it seems he could have. Instead, he was going to legally break their engagement as quietly as he could.
“…as he considered these things…”
That took some planning. In fact, that’s partly by God’s design. When Moses delivered God’s instructions about getting a divorce, it included some work and some waiting. The effort it took created some time to think things through. That seems to be why God required a certificate of divorce. It wasn’t something you just did on the whim of a bad moment.
That’s where Joseph is as we start reading v20. Plans disrupted. Dreams shattered. Spirit crushed.
Not everyone of us has experienced some heart-wrenching tragedy in life. Some of you here have experienced several. Some are even in the middle of one now. At the very least, everyone of us can relate to the experience of making plans, getting our hopes up, and then having them abruptly changed.
It’s one thing to have your plans change. You know, Dunkin Donuts doesn’t have pumpkin flavor and you have to get caramel in your coffee instead. It’s another thing to be sent a totally different direction in life - car accident, death of a spouse, job change, unexpected pregnancy, illness. Look back at your life. What surprises have sent you a different direction in life?
A number of those have the potential not just to change your plans, but to change your whole outlook in some pretty tough ways.