It’s the second week of Advent! Woot! At Church in Bethesda this past Sunday we dug into the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel to explore his introduction to Jesus. Matthew begins with a lengthy genealogy of Christ (which we’ll skip over for now), but he then moves into a birth narrative, the subject of our discussion this week. Let’s take a peek at that in Matthew 1:18-25…
18 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. 19 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. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew stands alone as the Gospel writer giving us the story of the annunciation to Joseph, something we usually associate with Mary (and which we’ll see in Luke’s Gospel). Joseph stands in a similar situation to Mary in that his marriage plans and future marital hopes seem to be coming apart at the seems… his betrothed has turned up pregnant. He would be understandably upset, angry and hurt. He would understandably feel betrayed, and most of us would lash out at Mary in our hurt and anger.
But Joseph is a good man, a righteous man, and that leads him to grace instead of disgrace in his dealing with Mary. He’s a righteous man. The Greek word there means that Joseph is a keeper of law, both human and divine, and is as he ought to be. And that leads him not to judge or to disgrace Mary, but to move in a way that protects her from any further hurt or harm. The circumstances look about as bad as they could be for Mary and as hurtful as they could be for Joseph. She’s not yet fully married, but now unexpectedly pregnant, and Joseph moves to shield her from further trouble.
When it says that Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace the word in the Greek does mean to put on display. Isn’t that what we so often do to deflect any blame or wrong-doing that might be accredited to us? Isn’t this what we do to punish people when they hurt us? We usually make sure everyone knows who deserves disgrace and blame. Joseph shows us a better way, a way of grace.
Still, Joseph does plan to divorce her, right? He does plan to end their betrothal. I’m glad he is a righteous man and plans to do so quietly, but I’m even happier that God steps in and expands on the grace Joseph would show Mary. When God enters the picture Joseph is called to greater faith and less fear. He is called to courageously embrace the very circumstances which had caused him pain and embarrassment, and to love Mary without fear.
This Advent Season let us remember that the arrival of Jesus is shrouded and immersed in grace, grace shared between people. Can we become a people who daily advent grace into our lives and communities? Oh, yes. We can choose to put aside a righteousness that demands others be judged and demeaned and choose a righteousness that honors others and protects them, even in the worst of circumstances.
Choose grace. That is our Advent message for the week. Choose to look past the circumstances and be not afraid. Protect those around you, even if they seem to deserve worse than they are getting.
God of no fear,
and God of greater love…
May we not ever be a people of disgrace,
but a people who plant a seed of grace
in the worst circumstances of life,
and then watch you it into grow a beautiful thing!
May our righteousness always be a gift
to those most in need of our best.
People are worth the effort and the cost,
now and ever more, world without end. Amen