It’s the end of another year and I hope that you will carve out some time for rest with family this Christmas season. Although the Christmas account is very familiar, it can provide new insights for the season we find ourselves in.
This time around, something stood out to me like never before.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy before moving to a section titled “Joseph accepts Jesus as his son” (NIV).
“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. 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” (Matthew 1:18,19).
Joseph had to make a choice. While I’ve always known that it was culturally inappropriate to be pregnant out of wedlock, and I’ve heard people emphasize Joseph’s dilemma and his messages from God, this year I’ve been struck by a few new angles in this story.
To start, Joseph receives an angel, who speaks to him in a dream and tells him to marry Mary and that the Son born from her will be the Saviour. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the Angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.“
Some translations say that Joseph is a “just” or “righteous” man but I actually like the phrasing of the NIV describing him as “faithful to the law”.
He knew the law – knew what was supposed to happen to Mary – but wanted to find a gentler way. Now, in a small community, let’s not kid ourselves, the religious would have accused him of being unrighteous, of not following the law. There would have been gossip and innuendo, perhaps never to his face, but always behind his back. He took the harder road, but was faithful to God’s call, even without a clear Scriptural mandate. He was then ready to move when God’s message arrived and was willing to follow.
When we become too fixated on the law, we can miss the calling and leading of God in our lives, as He seeks for us to deploy the greatest law (love God, love others) in the situations we find ourselves in.
Joseph continued to take the righteous road after marriage. “But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son” (v24,25). Now according to some people who want to interpret Paul in a certain way (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5), Joseph was in fact within his rights to consummate the marriage. He could have used the official wedding and his message from God as a green light. He might have thought that if he was stuck in this situation he was entitled to his dues. However, that was not Joseph’s attitude at all. Rather, he had an attitude of respect toward his wife, his God, and the Child she was carrying. The lesson for us is clear: we must never see other people as property and misunderstand the context of Scripture to construct a “plain, clear” reading that is oppressive or abuses power.
Joseph, in Matthew’s Gospel, provides for us a foreshadowing of God’s love for the world, expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Child who is about to be born.
God knows the law, the universal law that sin leads to death and separation from God, but He allowed a provision to accept us as His children anyway. When we accept the great sacrifice that was made for us in the person of Jesus Christ, we are adopted into the family of God and become co-heirs with Christ. The universal law of consequences for our actions, what C.S. Lewis calls “the deep magic”, is overcome and overturned by sacrifice and love, the “deeper magic” of salvation. Joseph is compelled by the angel, by God’s voice, to disregard the law of Moses that might have seen him discard Mary, and instead, he follows God’s leading.
We can follow Joseph’s lead. As Adventist Christians, we should be known as those who are “faithful to the law”, yet also showing compassion and respect to those who are not seen as righteous. We must be open to hearing God’s voice and following God’s lead. We must demonstrate love and care to all we come into contact with.