The circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus is intriguing, if not, bewildering. In the Gospel, Matthew keeps us close to the ground and provides a preview of the drama of Christmas. After hearing much from John the Baptist, Joseph takes the center stage. Many of us don’t realize that behind the well- decorated nativity scene lies a very troubling story, a huge scandal if you will. Accordingly, “Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit” Mt. 1: 18.
In the ancient Jewish marriage custom, betrothal is the next stage after engagement. If all goes well, the relationship is taken to the next level which meant, they have already signed the marriage license now officially recognized as husband and wife but not yet allowed to live together and have sexual relations. They have to wait for a year before the “the coming together” the final stage.By the way, in the ancient of days, pairing is done either by parents or matchmaker. Nowadays, it’s carried out almost completely different except maybe for a few religious families. Since the dawn of the internet, online dating sites have become multi-million dollar industries and have proven effective, take it from the reviews and success stories I have heard, some of whom, I wed. If you find your Romeo and perhaps, Juliet, and if things work out, take the first flight to Vegas for a drive thru wedding. How’s that for a whirlwind romance?Back to where we were before. If a problem comes up during the betrothal period, the couple can’t simply revoke, take the ring back and cancel wedding preparations, they have to call a divorce. Betrothal took a year of wait. Pre-marital sex was inconceivable under this ancient custom. It was within this timeframe that Mary was found pregnant which put Joseph and the future of the relationship in a serious dilemma. What in the world went on?Out of social convention, Joseph needed to put Mary into public trial, shame her and stone her to death. He was troubled, lost in anguish, ever-worried, had his share of sleepless nights and moments of despair. Realizing things didn’t go as planned, he was soon tempted to be politically correct that is, go with the flow of society. “…Since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly…” Mt. 1: 19.
Probably, if we put ourselves in his shoes, we would stop right here, stick with the common practice and never cross beyond the fine line.
Now, the unexpected happened,
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” Mt. 20-21.
How can you argue with this? Dang! It defies any sort of explanation. Something wonderful is about to happen that will change the normal course of human history. The angel basically said, “I know this was not what you thought would happen but everything eventually will fall into place. Despite placed in an obviously awkward situation, he beckoned to follow and put off that scandalous paternity question.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’. When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” Mt. 1:22-24.
Either through a dream, a text message, an email or a word from a familiar stranger, every encounter with God is life-changing It alters our lives even if we don’t know exactly where God would take us. In the midst of all the hype, Holy Mother Church invites us to behold Joseph as the model for Christian living. He was the type who wrestled with the complexities of life, remained docile, ever open to listen to God’s word and went beyond what the law required. What would you do if you run into a similar scenario? What would you do if you find yourself in a point of no return? Would you follow what the law demands or take the road less traveled uttered by the voice of an angel? Joseph did, would you? Still, this whole “Emmanuel, God is with us” troubles me and brings me into a halt every time I take it to heart. It’s risky but at least I know it starts with Jesus and calls us, his disciples, to do the same. Amen.