Now the birth of Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” . . . When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” – Matthew 1: 18-25 ESV
I love Bible stories and like fellow believers worldwide am particularly fond of the Christmas story, the heart and center of which is the birth of the Christ child and the linchpin of the Christian faith. But when I re-read the story or hear it recounted I am always intrigued by Joseph, a man who gets scant mention in the Bible and a guy whose faith – in my view – was tested beyond all others. Try to imagine what he was asked to believe:
He plies his carpentry trade in a small town on the backside of nowhere, where he is engaged to be married. His bride-to-be, a teenager named Mary, receives a visit from an angel and is told she will become pregnant, although she is a virgin. She questions the angel but is told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.”
Her husband-to-be learns of this and, naturally, is puzzled and probably somewhat angry and confused. This will almost certainly provide endless fodder for the small town gossip mill. We know from Matthew’s gospel account that Joseph apparently had serious doubts about Mary’s story – he had, after all, decided not to marry her. But we also learn that Joe is a “just man,” and does not wish to put his young bride-to-be to shame and decides to quietly cancel the marriage. But before he can follow through with his decision an angel speaks to Joseph in a dream and explains that the child Mary is carrying is not like other babies, says the child is conceived from the Holy Spirit, says Mary’s story is true and Joseph should not be afraid to marry her.
He does. They eventually make their way to Bethlehem and the birth – the event on which history turns – and the manager and the swaddling cloths and the shepherds and the multitude of the heavenly host and the wise men and the gifts.
But first there was Joseph, a simple and just man, who faced his own challenges and doubts, then was asked to believe the unbelievable and made able to do so through the Faith of Christmas.