We love the Christmas season at the Hatch house. Tree is up, smells from good food often in the air and Josephine’s international nativity collection displayed around the house. I’ve been thinking about Joseph lately as I look at these nativity scenes. In Matthew chapter 1, the birth of Jesus is written from Joseph’s perspective. What kind of situation did Joseph find himself in?
Matthew 1:18 states that Mary had been betrothed to Joseph. Mary was probably 15 or 16 years old at the time – a young teen girl whose parents would have helped to arrange this marriage to Joseph. He was probably older – not an old man but old enough to work hard to provide for his young wife.
The word “betrothed” is an old fashion word so some translations of the Bible use the word engaged here to add our understanding. But in ancient times, to be betrothed was a much more serious matter than engagement is today. It was a legal contract – therefore to break this kind of engagement – a couple had to go to court to get a divorce.
But, they didn’t sleep or live together – that was saved until after the wedding. Joseph was an honorable man – he hadn’t slept with his wife-to-be but now he finds her pregnant. Whoa! How did you think he must have felt? Crushed. And angry.
Honestly, he had the right to be angry – just like any husband has the right to be angry if his wife is not faithful. But here we see what kind of man Joseph really is. He had the right to not only break off their wedding plans. Joseph had the right to really shame her. He could have brought her before the elders of the village which would have shamed her and her family.
Joseph doesn’t do that – verse 19 says here:
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
He decides to show mercy to Mary. He doesn’t demand punishment for Mary and place shame on her. Joseph still loved Mary. He seeks what is best for her even though in his mind she has failed him. His first concern was for Mary’s future.
Have you ever been sinned against recently? Has someone done you wrong lately? There are times to pursue justice for those who do wrong – to get the law involved – whether that the police, your parents or your boss. But sometimes the honourable thing to do is let it go. Let the sin go unpunished. Absorb the blow.
If justice is always the first thing on your mind when you’ve been sinned against – you’re going to find yourself a very bitter person. People will hurt you, fail you and disappoint you again and again. If we seek to love people first – then our decision to pursue punishment for sin will always be tempered by what is best for the individual who has fallen.
If you are never able to pass over the wrong of another without seeking just punishment for that wrong – check you heart. God is a merciful God who loves sinners like you and me. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. God taking action on behalf of sinners.
God step into Joseph’s situation through a dream. He stepped into our world 2000 years ago. And He continues to step into situations today.