This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:18–19).
The betrothal had taken place, and Mary and Joseph were pledged to one another in marriage. But it didn’t turn out as they had planned, for before they “came together” (Matthew’s way of implying sexual relations), Joseph learned that Mary was expecting a child. At this time, she was probably four months pregnant, having spent time with her relative Elizabeth, who herself was expecting her son John the Baptist (as we learn in Luke’s account).
Courting and marriage were different in biblical times. Back then, young men and women would be betrothed to each other for about a year before they entered into marriage. The betrothal would involve exchanging gifts and signing a prenuptial agreement, which would give the man rights over the woman. To break these legal ties entailed divorce. This, then, is what Joseph faced.
Imagine what Joseph was feeling – shocked, angry, hurt, disappointed, indignant, deflated. His plans for spending his life with Mary were shattered. In an instant, everything changed. What was he to do?
He could marry her, but that would condone her sin of adultery, leaving him impure before God. He could demand a public divorce, but that would humiliate her publicly and perhaps even cause her death by stoning. He settled on a third option, a private divorce, which would ensure his holiness before God while safeguarding her life.
Your day may be filled with preparations for the feast of Christmas. Stop for a moment, however, put yourself in Joseph’s shoes and forget what comes next in the story. With Joseph, every cell cries out in anguish. Why? Why did she? Why me? Why, God? Oh, why?
For reflection: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).