Reluctant hero

 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

This is another gloriously understated passage, isn't it?  Once again someone is given the most extraordinary news – "Joseph, I'm pregnant; but don't worry, God's the dad" – and all we read is that Joseph had in mind to divorce Mary quietly, because he was a nice bloke.  No detail of any emotion whatsoever.  This is partly why I've felt blessed by the Natwivity (following the nativity story through Twitter and Facebook updates) and also the BBC's dramatic interpretation "Nativity", which has been screening at prime time (7pm) from Monday to Thursday this week.  These "flesh out" the story a bit.  Both interpretations see Joseph reacting angrily to Mary's news – here are some of his tweets …

WHAT?! How could she do this to me? Degrade herself with another man. And lie like that? Trying to make it into some big miracle

I trusted her. Thought I knew her. Everything’s changed now

No one needs to know. We’ll sort it out in private. Then it’s over and we can all start again

In the BBC drama Joseph starts throwing around the furniture.  I think it's entirely plausible that Joseph would have reacted in this way; after all, he was only human and didn't have God's perspective on the issue – not yet, anyway.  Mary was asking him to believe the impossible.  The alternative to Mary's story must have been unthinkable.  Horrible.  We know he had a strong reaction, because he planned to divorce her, presumably on the grounds of adultery.  

At this point, it's a very messy story indeed.  And into this mess steps God.  God got Mary into this mess and makes sure in his infinite grace that Mary doesn't have to go through it alone.  God gives Joseph a dream, and again this is how he might well have reacted to it all (thanks to the Natwivity).

I can still see the angel – every time I close my eyes. The whole plan was clear when he said it but now I don’t know

This will take courage. Some guts and nerve. Walking through the town with her every day. Protecting her. Holding our heads up high

They’ll spit & throw rocks. Whisper around us. Slam doors in our faces. We’ll become outcasts in our homes

This is an idiotic, totally irrational ‘save the world’ plan. All we’ve got here is ourselves

You’re trusting us with something pretty big here. Seriously hope this doesn’t back fire angel

Again, this is all speculation.  Joseph may have been completely unperturbed by the turn of events and accepted it all serenely.  However, I believe it would have been a struggle; he certainly wouldn't have been in on the plan without God's intervention through the dream; he probably had some sleepless nights and even some nightmares after the dream.  But I also believe this with all my heart: God was with them, helping them, inspiring them, keeping them going when the going got tough, every step of the way – not only because of the very precious baby Mary was carrying, but because that's the sort of thing God does.  Because Immanuel, "God with us" entered the world two thousand years ago and was born for all of us, to save all of us; and God is still with us now.  He will never leave us or forsake us.

This is a story of great herosim.  There is no doubt that Joseph was a hero and a model to all of us of costly obedience.  But there's also no doubt that he was only able to be that hero, because of God's intervention and constant presence and inspiration.  May we all know that for ourselves.  

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