JOSEPH AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH

Joseph

Very little is mentioned in the Bible about Joseph, who was chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus. But what is mentioned does leave us with an impression of a truly special person.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and 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. (Matthew 1)

The virgin conception is as miraculous an event as any other. What is hard for modern-day man to believe in would have been equally hard for Joseph to accept. Having found Mary pregnant, Joseph would no doubt have asked Mary, who would have explained to Joseph about the conception through the Holy Spirit. Mary knew about it, understood it and needed to submit to God’s plan as elucidated by Luke in the process of divine conception.

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. ———–38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1)

But imagine Joseph who faced with that explanation would have scratched his head in disbelief and wondered what to make of it. He knew that Mary was a pious, God-fearing woman- perhaps she was saying the truth. But this would have appeared a stretch by any imagination when there was a more plausible explanation at hand for a surprise pregnancy! And so he takes a decision that demonstrated mercy, humility and wisdom.

At the heart of God’s dealing with men is mercy- a willingness to forgive. Joseph was willing to extend that hand of mercy to Mary. He could have taken the route of publicly exposing her and making her pay the price of unfaithfulness. But while forgiveness is difficult to practice, it captures the essence of God’s dealing with man, where the one who forgives also pays the price of forgiving one who has wronged him.

Joseph’s decisions also demonstrate humility. For him to take the decision to send Mary away quietly, he would have needed to reason that even if Mary had sinned against Joseph, he was as much a sinner before God with regard to his life in various matters. He did not consider too highly of himself and had no qualms about following the angel’s directions at various times and also in breaking tradition of naming a firstborn after himself and instead following the angel’s direction. His humility was borne by a consciousness of the proximity of God and so after being told of the conception by the angel, he had no physical union with Mary till Jesus was born.

 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 had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1)

Joseph had a keen sense of interpreting dreams. We are reminded of his namesake, Joseph, who was a specialist in dreams. Surely, a person’s name is much more than just a name and Joseph, even though drew his lineage through Judah, lived true to the character and abilities of the Jewish patriarch after whom he was named. To be able to interpret dreams with the certainty that Joseph did would have required Joseph to already be familiar with that process of listening to God and responding to him. Each of the four dreams mentioned in the gospel induced a drastic decision by Joseph that was crucial in preserving the infant Jesus through a vulnerable moment and in fulfilling the prophecies about him.

The brief account of Joseph portrays a man who was humble, righteous and took up the responsibility of partnering with Mary in the truly special task of the virgin birth. It is no surprise that he was chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus.

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