20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." Matthew 1:19-25
Last night I spent the evening watching The Nativity Story, and really, really enjoyed it. It was a wonderful retelling of the birth of Jesus, and I really think it captured some unique elements about the relationship between Mary and Joseph that Scripture only alludes to. The verses above tell us that Joseph was a righteous man- and in those days, in those times, men would select a young woman for their wife, and approach the family to ask permission to marry their daughter. Then, if permission was granted, they were married, and called husband and wife, but the girl still lived at home and the couple had to remain pure for one full year. After that year passed, the couple then consummated the marriage and she moved into his home. This explains a lot of what these verse above are saying. Mary was pregnant with Jesus after they'd been declared husband and wife, but before their year was up. Joseph had a huge decision to make.
On one hand, he knows the child isn't his. He doesn't believe Mary's story about a messenger from God appearing to her. If he still keeps her as his wife, they will become a public disgrace, because obviously, they couldn't keep their vows to remain pure for the full year. Joseph had made up his mind to quietly divorce her, and then the angel speaks to him in a dream. Joseph's follows what the angel says, and keeps Mary as his wife. Now they are both under public disgrace, but they both believe they are doing the right thing.
Something that this movie really conveyed to me last night was what they could both have possibly been thinking. They were both told that this child would be the Messiah, and daily they were surrounded by the cruelties of King Herod and the Romans. Families had to work so hard to get enough money to pay their taxes, or the young women in their family would be taken away to "work off" the taxes. People were killed for no reason, and life just wasn't good for the people of Israel. Both Mary and Joseph saw this baby as an opportunity for their people. Their love for their people was the first act of love in this story. They both were willing to do whatever it took to see their people freed from the tyranny of Rome- even suffer public disgrace.
The second act of love comes as the story continues. As Joseph and Mary find themselves married, expecting a baby, while they really hardly know each other. Now imagine that they have to go on a journey together. A census is called to be taken, and Joseph must travel to his hometown- and take his new family with him for the census. Any journey in those days was difficult, and to make it with a pregnant woman makes it very hazardous indeed. They make this journey together- and just think of the conversations they must have had! In a time where most people began their married life not knowing each other so well, these two had a unique opportunity to really get to know each other. Joseph's acts of love for his new wife are just amazing to think about. All that he did, all the burdens he took on his shoulders, for the love of this new wife- and for this child- are an example that we all should remember.
Jesus was an act of love all by Himself. God with us- Jesus was love from God for all mankind- destined to save each and every one of us from eternal torment. It just seems so fitting to understand that as God so loved us and sent His Son for us, that this child was brought into this world surrounded by love. He was guarded in the womb by two young people who so loved their people that they were willing to bear any shame to carry this child to life. And then He was brought into this world by two people who also so loved each other, and who loved Him before He even took his first breath as an infant.
Love. It's all we need this Christmas season- it's how Christmas began after all.