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The stories of Zacharias, Elizabeth and the virgin Mary, all build up to the main event and Joseph is the man for the hour.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
All this was done which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. He registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. She brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Matthew 1:18-24 & Luke 2:1-7 NKJV, condensed
H-e-r-e-'-s JOSEPH! Gentlemen, Take Notes
We will never know anything Joseph said. He is not quoted in the Bible and therefore remains forever silent. In his case though, words were not needed. His actions did the speaking.
Joseph was in a dilemma from the very start. He had a pregnant fiancee and he knew he didn't do it. From Matthew's gospel we learn that Joseph considered his options. He didn't want to disgrace Mary publicly. But he was thinking how to end their relationship. Divorce laws were simple. All that was required to void the marriage contract, was that Joseph sign the papers.
I have always liked this picture of Joseph. Most guys would have acted out their anger and humiliation--She did that to me!!! Novels and movies are full of tragedies about men who react with rage and create hell for all involved, especially for anyone who loved them. Joseph was different. Despite his own pain and unanswered questions, he thought of Mary and how to make their separation as easy for her as possible! Joseph gave gentle-man a new meaning.
That's when Joseph had the first of several dreams which guided his actions. An angel told him not to fear; the babe in Mary's womb was God's child. He is to be named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. Joseph, son of David, rise to the occasion. You have the blood of Israel's greatest king flowing through your veins. Do not be afraid. God is with you; Immanuel!
After his dream, Joseph had a new slate of options. Actually, just two--to believe or not to believe. He wanted to give Mary the benefit of the doubt. So he put his trust in God and accepted the assignment. Joseph and Mary became partners in faith as well as in marriage. For the rest of his life Joseph would be the protector of, and provider for, Mary and God's son, Jesus. Together, Joseph and Mary would believe what they did not understand. They would tackle the problems, share the joys, and do whatever was necessary.
Life is full of surprises, like the announcement of Caesar Augustus who thought he owned the whole world. At the time of Jesus' birth, the land of Palestine was part of the Roman Empire. The Jewish people were free to worship and live there, but they were ever mindful to be alert, cautious, and not cause trouble.
But trouble cuts both up and down. The official pronouncement from the Roman Emperor was a political event totally out of Joseph's control. It was an unwelcome decree because a census meant higher taxes. The poor would get poorer; the rich would get richer. There was nothing Joseph could do about this new set of circumstances, except to keep on believing. The Emperor of the world and the Savior of the world were about to co-exist.
The registration required Joseph and Mary to leave Nazareth and travel to his ancestral home, a little place called Bethlehem. It was a trip of about 60 miles--lots of travel time to ponder this sting of injustice. It was a long way to go with a new wife expecting her first baby. If there were creeping doubts, we wouldn't be surprised.
Whether Joseph had ever been to Bethlehem, or if he knew anybody there, we do not know. What Luke does tell us is that after the long and weary journey, Joseph could find no accommodations for the night. All the inns were full. A travelers nightmare, and no one offered to take them in. Within that crowded city, he was probably alone with his full-term Mary. The message of Immanuel did not seem to fit the situation. If God is with us, where is God now?
No other details are given. Mary delivered her baby, wrapped him up in long, narrow bands of cloth and found a manger for his bed. The feeding trough implies they were in some kind of shelter for animals. From our perspective, not a good place to be. It's not looking good for the new father.
There Joseph stood. Silent, gentle, and loving, with straw under his feet. The ordeal of travel, lodging and delivery behind him. The baby the angel called a savior was asleep in a manger! His wife, God's favored one, having just delivered this most special child in a cattle stall off some back alleyway! All of this took place in the stillness of the night, with no fanfare. Was it credible? Who would accept the truth of any of this?
Yet, out beyond the range of Joseph's hearing, God celebrated the birth of Jesus with a splendid hallelujah chorus. Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to keep on believing!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Briefly tell about one of your more memorable travel experiences. What happened and why does it stand out in your mind?
Joseph, son of David! A title like that is enough to make a person stand up straight and feel a tingle of inspiration. How does your name or family affect how you feel about yourself?
Joseph doesn't say anything. Instead his actions are his words. Why do you suppose he was not quoted? If you were going to put words in Joseph's mouth, what would they be? Do you know anyone like Joseph who quietly does what is needed?
God was turning Joseph's life up-side-down. What made Joseph able to do the job God had for him? Was it fair for God to ask so much of him?
Joseph's gentleness may have been a good thing in his relationship with Mary. But it didn't help him get a room in Bethlehem. How does it make a man feel when he can't provide for his family? Have you ever felt the same way? Who or what was responsible for his predicament?
Immanuel means, "God with us." In what ways was God with Joseph and Mary when they arrived in Bethlehem and couldn't find accommodations? Should God have intervened to make life better for the holy family? What does it take on our part to keep on believing?
Could it be God wanted his son to be born in lowly circumstances? If so, what statement was God making? In what ways does your congregation "walk among the poor"?
Mary had been full of joy and anticipation. She felt favored by God and special in God's sight. How do you think Mary's mood affected Joseph? Do you think the reality of their situation dampened her enthusiasm? Do the events of this story sound to you like Mary was favored/special?
Do you see ways in which Joseph and Mary complemented each other? Any traits which one of them had which balanced the other one?If you are married, maybe you would like to share how your spouse adds to your life something which you lack.