Mary’s husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.
I had a seminary professor who suggested that Joseph was sort of like the father of the bride at a wedding. No one pays Joseph much attention, but he pays the bills. We don’t often give much thought to Mary’s husband, but God gave him perhaps the most daunting task ever asked of a man. Joseph was to be husband to the woman who would give birth to the Son of God, the protector of that woman and her Child, and the man closest to God’s Son. Not one word of Joseph is recorded, but Scripture speaks volumes in telling us that he was “a righteous man”. He shows perhaps the greatest act of trust ever displayed between a man and woman. Humble, silent faithfulness to Mary and Jesus is the mark of Joseph’s life.
Scripture tells us that Joseph was a tekton (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), a Greek word best translated in the broad sense as “builder”. In first century Palestine tekton would mean a craftsman skilled in both masonry and carpentry. Because stones were plentiful in Galilee and wood was scarce, it is likely that Joseph worked primarily with stone. King Herod Antipas’ ambitious reconstruction of the nearby city of Sepphoris as a model Roman city likely provided ample work for both Joseph and Jesus.
Mary and Joseph were related and able to trace their ancestry back to King David (Matthew 1:6-16; Luke 2:4; 3:23-31). Joseph still had his legal inheritance in Bethlehem of Judea, better known as the “City of David” (Luke 2:4).
Scripture does not indicate why Joseph, who was from Bethlehem, was living in Nazareth. Perhaps he had followed Mary’s family looking for work in the more commercial north. The necessity of earning a living might have spurred the move. However, it does appear that Joseph had plans of settling again in Bethlehem of Judea after the Roman census (Matthew 2:22).
It is not apparent if Joseph knew of Mary’s pregnancy before she “went with haste” to Elizabeth’s home in Judea. But with her return three months later the secret could not be hidden (Luke 1:56; Matthew 1:18). Joseph must have been heartbroken to learn that his Mary was pregnant. But the Bible says that Joseph was “a righteous man” and his first concern was for Mary. He did not want “to expose her to public disgrace” and planned to break their engagement quietly. Joseph knew that the child was not his own, but refused to go before the elders to declare his innocence or clear his good name. Even when Joseph felt he had been wronged he showed himself to be a gracious and compassionate man.
Unaware of the mystery of supernatural conception Joseph still did not want to add to Mary’s shame. In his pain and confusion, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). We read this wondrous story in hindsight and see what Mary and Joseph could not see. But for them the story was not so wondrous. It was an incredible test of their mutual love. Yet, in the midst of broken dreams and broken hearts, God was working to redeem the world.
God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to vouch for Mary’s seemingly preposterous story and reassure him that marriage to Mary was God’s will. But note that this angel, unlike the angel Gabriel who was sent to Mary, appears to Joseph in a dream. Might it have been a dream inspired by wishful thinking? Might it have been brain synapses misfiring? We of course know that the angel was from God because the Scriptures plainly tell us. But upon waking from the dream the angel might have seemed to Joseph but an illusion, a middle of the night fantasy. Yet Joseph was obedient and remained faithful to God’s instruction through all the hard days ahead. He did it all based on a dream.
Joseph knew that Mary’s story would never be believed, and that they would live with small town gossip all their lives. He knew that in taking Mary as his wife, tongues would wag about Jesus being “the tekton’s son”.
It mattered not to Joseph what people would say, he believed God. He was a humble and good man who had to grapple with the mysteries of the virgin birth and the incarnation of God’s Son. He had to take on the challenges of protecting and caring for the Son of God amidst the threats on His life from the moment He was born. But to Joseph was granted the greatest of honors: to be the earthly father of Jesus, the man entrusted by God to raise His only begotten Son. He was just the sort of man that could teach little Jesus about mercy.
- Imagine God looking to choose a man to raise His own Son? What qualities do you imagine might have drawn God’s favor to Joseph?
- Try and imagine the conversation between Mary and Joseph when she explains to him that she is pregnant? What stands out to you in their conversation?
- While the focus of this Advent devotional has been upon Mary, what is there in Joseph’s life that you admire?