Isaiah 7 : 10 – 16,
Matt. 1 : 18 – 25
Just imagine; if this is not a Bible story. A man had a nightmare. How could it be just a dream? His young fiancé told him that she was pregnant. He and she were the only ones who knew that he was not responsible for her pregnancy. It took tremendous amount of faith, love, and trust for Joseph to believe Mary”s explanation. Stories around the first Christmas are full of faith and love. And the story of Joseph is one of them.
A mother is the only reliable natural link between a child and the family. This is why a Jewish person must come from a Jewish mother regardless of the father”s nationality. The love of a father for his child begins with trust. A father has to learn to love a child, he has not carried it inside himself for nine months. And if Joseph did not trust Mary, Christmas would not have happened, because she could have been stoned to death for adultery. The laws regarding adultery applied also to engaged couples. What could Joseph do? He was a law abiding man, but he also loved Mary dearly. The child could not be Joseph”s child. And Mary makes a preposterous excuse. She says, "It”s God who made me pregnant." Oh, sure. Imagine?
So he was going to quietly annul the engagement to make it look as though it had never happened. She might be branded as a loose woman by giving birth to a fatherless child, but her sin would not be labelled adultery. Being a loose woman was shameful, but it did not signify she broke faith with her husband, or husband-to-be, because there was no such man. This way, Mary”s life would be spared. Then one night he had a dream. An angel appeared and told him that indeed Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that he should name the child Jesus – Yoshua, "he who saves people." He wanted to believe such a message because he loved her. That was enough. He decided to travel with her to Bethlehem to register their marriage and possibly their new born child. According to the custom of the land at the time, when a couple of a man and a woman undertook a journey together without chaperon, they were considered to be legally married.
Evangelist Matthew told this story of Joseph to remind the Jews who were under Roman occupation of what happened about 800 years before to King Ahaz. During the reign of Ahaz, the kingdom of Judah was under tremendous pressure from an alliance of Syria and Israel which was ready to invade and conquer Judah. At first, Ahaz could think of no other way out but to enter an alliance with Egypt, though he knew that was a bad idea. Egypt would surely absorb his tiny country eventually. It was a Catch 22 situation. The Prophet Isaiah agreed with Ahaz”s analysis that this alliance would be a problem and told him not to enter such an agreement. But Ahaz needed a sign that he was taking the lesser of two risks by not entering into the alliance. Isaiah gave him a sign from God as an alternative course. The sign was, "A young woman becomes pregnant and bears a baby boy. He will be called ”God is with us”. He will bring people milk and honey, and other powerful nations will be no more."
Who could have believed in such a preposterous sign? King Ahaz didn”t. Many of us still don”t. But Joseph did, 800 years after Isaiah”s initial prophecy. Joseph believed it, because he loved Mary and wanted to believe in her faithfulness badly enough to trust God”s message. He could believe that a baby of a questionable origin could be a sign of hope for the whole people. Love is powerful. Crazy? Maybe, but it is the only way. Joseph teaches us that love and trust are the only way to make this world work. Even economic and military alliances do not work where there is a lack of the basic ingredients of human civility and decency, based on trust. Where there is no trust even Empires will fall, because of the weight of the cost of maintaining a credible deterrent against possible betrayal. [That”s how the Soviet Union fell. Disintegration of our societies can not be stopped by toughened measures against crimes, where there is no trust between people. When the police realized that they can no longer catch up with the rising crime rate at the time of shrinking tax dollars, they devised community policing. They brought back foot patrol, and introduced bicycle squads and store front mini-stations to get to know people. They want to restore trust between people and the police.] A society that lacks trust is always under a threat of disintegration.
Believing that the future of the human race rests in a baby, born by a young woman is not preposterous. Giving birth to a child is a pilgrimage of trust and Joseph journeyed through that. He can not be left in the background for he teaches us one of the most profound message in the Christmas story. A sign from God that is overlooked can not change the world. Incarnation alone means little. But to believe in a dream, to act on trust animates that incarnation. Joseph steps forward and shows us the path we must take as pilgrims who journey in trust. It”ś his path that leads us to Bethlehem… and beyond.