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Fear Not: Joseph
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Joseph was a good man. He was righteous before God and his community. He was wise, caring, compassionate. If there had been romance novels 2000 years ago, Joseph was the kind of man after whom the novelists would model their male protagonists. He was honorable, just, and considerate, even to someone he thought had wronged him. After all, in our time, it would be a very rare man who would respect his ex and care enough about her to protect her reputation even after she supposedly cheated on him. There are videos all over the Internet with men who shame the women they previously claimed to love. Yeah, the man has been hurt, but that’s no reason for him to scream her infidelities to everyone with an Internet connection. Had he lived today, Joseph would have turned off his computer, put away his phone, and gone to his lawyer with as little fuss as possible. And once the deed was done, once Mary had been set aside with as little fanfare as he could manage, once the pain of betrayal had left his heart, maybe Joseph could have made a wonderful spouse for some other lucky woman.
But yes, he still would have gone ahead with the divorce. He was righteous, after all. Though he would grieve to set Mary aside, Joseph had a reputation to maintain, and Mary’s alleged infidelity would have shamed him and destroyed his reputation. The philosophers, not to mention the Scribes and Pharisees, would have approved of this worldly wise decision. This action balanced justice with fairness, righteousness with mercy. And yes, First Century romance novelists would have swooned in their writing workshops to encounter such a man. To do what is right in the eyes of the world seems wise. Look at how hard it is to live as a Christian today. The wise thing is to deny your faith—to bake the cake, to perform the wedding, to live together before marriage, to laugh at the crude joke—rather than risk the scorn of friends and neighbors. That’s the struggle Joseph faced.
And then the angel appeared to him in a dream to intervene. “Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David.” What the world counted as righteousness, the Lord called fear. The Lord sent His messenger to calm Joseph’s fear, for things were not what they had seemed. The Child was not the product of infidelity on Mary’s part; this Child was from the Holy Spirit. Mary’s virginity and her vow to Joseph remained intact. This Child, thought to be a sign of Mary’s unfaithfulness, was the promised Messiah. Joseph had wisely, in they eyes of the world, decided to set Mary aside; but the angel gave to Joseph God’s foolish option—foolish in the eyes of the world. The Lord sent His angel to give Joseph a better option than he could work out on his own. The circumstances did not change, but this message allowed Joseph to keep his honor before God and still keep his oath to Mary.
When the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as wife,” Joseph was freed. Mary had not been unfaithful. She carried in her womb the One who had been promised to their first ancestors, who would crush the head of the satanic serpent. Mary’s pregnancy, which Joseph thought would bring him shame, would instead bring about the end of all the world’s shame and save all people from the wages of sin, for Mary bore in her womb the Child who came to bear all that shame, who came to die to pay the price of all the world’s sin.
In the end, Joseph remained the kind of man romance novelists would drool over. And what’s more, Joseph remained the man he strove to be: righteous before God, honorable among men, and faithful husband to faithful Mary. He was given the responsibility of being the step-father to the Son of God. Joseph lost nothing…nothing except his fear. God released him from his fear, and in doing so provided an earthly father for the Christ Child, the Child who frees us all from our fear, from our sin, from our captivity to death and the power of the devil. So as the angel said to Joseph, our Lord says to you also: “Do not be afraid!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.