Notables for December 31
Joseph's Side of the Story

Joseph's Side of the Story


Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash 

Just and Compassionate

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. — Matthew 1:18 -19

If you were about to send your only son to faraway place and could choose a family for him, you would be very careful. God was no less deliberate about His choice for who would raise His Son.

We celebrate Mary who conceived Him by the Holy Spirit and nurtured Him in her womb before giving birth. In Mary were the finest maternal qualities.

But Jesus needed a man to protect Him and guide Him as well and God chose Joseph. First, He arranged the betrothal of Mary and Joseph through Divine providence. Then He kept them apart until He could work a miracle.

Joseph did not live in an age of miracles. The truth is, there has seldom been such a time. Miracles always take people by surprise and require a mind/faith stretch to be embraced. What Joseph did possess was a wonderful combination of integrity and compassion.

He was a just man. It would be no small thing for him to believe that his betrothed wife had been unfaithful to him. He would have been devastated and offended. As a man of honor, he would know that he could not simply overlook such an offense.

But he was also a man of compassion and, while it might have soothed his bruised ego to do so, he was not willing to make a public example of her. By public example, Matthew might have meant anything from humiliation and banishment to death. No more could Joseph turn off his love and compassion than his sense of right and wrong.

Such a man was chosen by God the Father to be a father-figure in the life of His Son. Such a man would model the Law of God and the love of God for the Son of God. Such a man would figure prominently in God’s plan to fill the life and heart of the Holy One who emptied Himself by taking the form of a Servant. Such a man was Joseph.

Born of the Spirit

“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.“ — Matthew 1:20

It was the kind of conception that was hard to conceive of. Joseph is silent during this transaction with the angel. No words are recorded. If he spoke, he must have deemed anything he had to say unimportant, because he reported only God’s words through the angel.

For some reason, miracles often evoke fear, perhaps because God voice speaks so powerfully through them and we are overwhelmed by His glory. This was a miracle of reduction. All of God’s glory would be compressed into one tiny little baby and His developing body would be planted into the womb of Mary.

Joseph was asked to come along as a willing and faithful participant in this process, to take Mary as his wife, to exercise restraint and patience, to accept any shame, humiliation, and ridicule that might come his way, and to rejoice with her in what God was doing. He was asked to take a giant step of faith.

People raise their eyebrows at the notion of the Incarnation, but they also turn a skeptical eye toward testimonies of new birth. The church boldly declares that men and women can be born of the Spirit from above and that God can transform the life of the most miserable sinner into the most useful saint. The world scoffs, but the true believer keeps testifying to the power of the miracle. That is because we know it is true. We have experienced it. Like Joseph, we are dumbfounded and receive the gift with joy.

Joy to the world! The Lord has come!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
(Isaac Watts, 1719)

Of the Holy Ghost

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. — Matthew 1:20

Sometimes it takes a messenger from God, human or angelic to interrupt our thinking and redirect our beliefs so that we can see that the seemingly negative events in our lives are nothing less than something conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Joseph was thinking as a natural man with the information he had and the beliefs that focused his thinking. He was filtering reality through a mindset that had not even considered the possibilities that were about to be revealed to him. As a result, he had come to certain conclusions, made certain decisions, and experienced a range of emotions including fear.

The angel’s message suggests that he might have toyed with the idea of marrying Mary in spite of everything, but fear prevented him. He needed a word from God to give him courage and assurance.

Joseph was thinking. Perhaps he was brooding. He may have been playing various scenarios in his mind, rehearsing his speech, considering, and reconsidering his options. He must have been on an emotional roller coaster and had drifted into the oblivion of racing thoughts when waking or sleeping, he saw what he had never seen before — an angel.

Though startled at first, imagine how Joseph must have welcomed the message he received. He could never have thought of it himself. It was like a breath of fresh air, a reprieve from the nightmare of recent days. It was a word of hope. The angel gave him permission to love the girl of his dreams and take her as his wife because the one impossible scenario was actually the truth: God had done this thing. It was all His doing and it was good.

Is that not what we need to hear in the midst of our despairing conundrums? We need to know that however convoluted the circumstances and what we believe about them, that the Spirit of the Living God is at work and is working out His eternal purposes. Embracing that word, we are set free from fear.

Call Him Jesus

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. — Matthew 1:21

Call his name, “Jesus.”

It was the core of the angelic message that was delivered to Joseph. Mary would have a son. There were no ultrasound tests in those days that could have predicted gender. Only God could know.

Only God could know the meaning of that life. God knew and shared that knowledge with Joseph through His angel. You will call Him Jesus — not because it was a common name among the sons of Israel; such a designation was not unheard of, but neither was it common. Call Him Jesus — not because it was a family name or because it had a ring to it.

Call Him Jesus, because that name, like His life, like this great event of miraculous conception means something. Of all those who have ever borne the name, He would most embody it and fulfill its promise.

Call Him Jesus because it means that God is Savior and God saves. Call Him Jesus because it for the purpose of saving His people from their sins that He came. Call Him Jesus and never forget that you are part of something greater than your own self interests.

There is no evidence that the angel shouted these words or sang them, but never has there been a more dramatic proclamation in the annals or oratory or a grander crescendo in the history choral repertoire. Thus, whenever we recall them theatrically, homiletically, or musically, it is almost impossible to restrain the enthusiasm.

What God spoke to the disoriented and discouraged Joseph in the dark quiet of that moment has resounded through the ages as great exclamation mark in salvation history.

He shall save His people from their sins!

The experience of Joseph has become our experience and the culmination of its advent, we have come to call, “Christmas.” Our sins, so profound and so hideous with their dire consequences in our lives have met their match in the One we call Jesus.


“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” — Matthew 1:21

The name, Jesus means Yahweh Saves. In a wonderful application of that meaning, the angel informs Joseph of the role of this boy who Mary carried in her womb. His life would be the very saving presence of God among His people.

Let us meditate upon the significance of this coming. The Son of Mary, who is the Son of God, would bear a name that others had borne before. But He would bear it with authority and purpose. Others wore that name as a prophetic reminder, He would be the authentic fulfillment of the promise incarnate.

This salvation that He brings is not from the destructive power of armies or the oppressive arm of dictators. It is from ourselves, our sins, our choices. It is the offering that He brings with His life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus comes to save His people. Joseph, no doubt, heard this as the household of Israel, but God sent His Son to save the whole world. His saving arms are long enough to embrace all people and gather them to Himself. And so, His arms are open to you this day to rescue you from whatever wars against you and to deliver you from your sins.

God Is with Us

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. — Matthew 1:22–23

How lonely Joseph must have felt, not to mention Mary’s loneliness. God chose two lonely young people to use as a vehicle for the end of loneliness.

To be a virgin and conceive is an unparalleled experience. Conception always involves ensemble and grows out of a deep partnership. Mary’s only partnership in this conception was with the invisible God and it led to more isolation from humanity — even her betrothed.

Joseph was also isolated by this event. Intimate trust had, in his mind, been betrayed. He could not receive counsel because there were none who could understand his mixed emotions.

Out of this loneliness would come a new partnership between God and this young couple and out of His work and their commitment would come a new reality — the persistent and consistent presence of God among people: Emmanuel.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife. — Matthew 1:24

At some point, prior to or during this encounter, Joseph has fallen asleep. God often speaks to us in the loneliness of slumber, but it is when we are awakened that we reveal the power of the encounter. Joseph believed and received the word and his solitude ended. He obeyed God.

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. — Matthew 1:25

Fulfillment involved restraint and rejection of superficial intimacy. The depths of what God was doing would require patient expectation. The honeymoon would wait because God had something marvelous in store for humanity through His Divine intervention in history and the commitment of two solitary youths, brought together by grace and empowered by the promise of the presence of God.

Are we as willing, as they were, to offer our lives to the purpose of Christmas, that the God of the Universe might be revealed to a lonely world? Are we willing to leave some of the gifts under the tree for a while that the Giver of all gifts might bestow the gift of His eternal presence in the temporal realm?

God is with us!