Today I conclude this Advent series with Joseph, who descended from the house of David (Luke 1:27, ESV). The author of Luke’s gospel provides that key fact, but nothing more of any substance about Joseph. Thankfully, the apostle Matthew responds to the Holy Spirit by writing his gospel sometime between 55 A.D. and 60 A.D. Scholars debate the actual date of Matthew’s gospel, but that’s not the subject of this post (thank heavens!). The main takeaway is that the gospel of Matthew provides the lion’s share of information about Joseph. I do not understand the reasoning behind this fact; however, I am grateful to God that there is more than one gospel account.
When Matthew introduces the reader to Joseph, he wastes no time in plunging the story into conflict. Joseph and Mary are in line to be married, but there’s a huge snag. She is pregnant, and they know Joseph is not the father. More than likely, Mary tells Joseph about Gabriel coming to visit her with God’s plan to birth the Messiah through her. It’s a fantastic story, but I believe Joseph trusted his young wife and her story. How do I know this about him? The text says that Joseph “…[was] a just man and unwilling to put her to shame,” which displays his care and concern for her (Matthew 1:19, ESV). The passage goes on to state that Joseph contemplates how best to divorce Mary without any fanfare, but that an angel dissuades him from this course through a dream in the night (Matt. 1:20-21, ESV).
Now, here’s the thing about Joseph’s response to the angel. The text says that he obeys without any hesitation by marrying his young bride and naming the child Jesus (Matt. 1:24-25, ESV). Joseph’s response is immediate, no delays. He does not question or ask for clarification. Just earlier in the passage, Joseph considers a course of action that makes the most sense in his human mind: divorce Mary quietly. At this intense moment of need, the Lord provides Joseph with a loving course correction. He does not rebuke, shame, or condemn Joseph for entertaining the action to divorce Mary. Through the angel, the Lord exhorts Joseph to become her husband, and to lead his young family as exemplified by naming his son Jesus, which fulfills the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 about Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:20-25, ESV).
Because Joseph rises to the call as leader and protector of Mary and Jesus, this opens the door for God to speak to Joseph through dreams. After the wise men worship Jesus and leave, an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee with his family to Egypt because King Herod will kill all the male children (Matt. 2:13, ESV). Once again, he responds without any delay by leading his family to Egypt during the night (Matt. 2:14, ESV). The apostle Matthew points out how Joseph and his family’s actions fulfill the Old Testament prophecy in Hosea 11:1,“Out of Egypt I called my son.” From Joseph’s perspective, he’s protecting the lives of his wife and child, and I do not think anyone would begrudge him that fact. The point must be made though that the larger view is that scripture is being fulfilled, history is in the making.
Before I wrap this up, Joseph has two more dreams in Matthew’s narrative. The third dream takes place in Egypt where the angel tells Joseph that it is safe to return to the land of Israel (Matt. 2:19-20, ESV). He refuses to settle in Judea as Herod’s son rules in his place; consequently, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph again to warn him against returning to the region of Judea (Matt. 2:21-22, ESV). Instead, he takes his family to the region of Galilee in the north, and they settle in the city called Nazareth (Matt. 2:23, ESV). Throughout his family’s journey, Joseph’s obedience remains at the forefront. He is open to the Lord guiding him in specific ways to protect all of them. Furthermore, God uses Joseph to protect Jesus, the Messiah, so that his redemptive work comes to fruition at the cross.
Joseph obeys the Lord without any hesitation. He takes him at his word each and every time. The stakes are high for Joseph as the lives of his wife and child hang in the balance. It is true that his life is also in danger, but the emphasis is on Jesus’s safety and Mary. A child is in desperate need of a mother within the first two years of his/her life. Joseph’s obedience to God and his commands shows care for his family, but most importantly, his obedience preserves and protects them. This is exactly what the life of Christ does for his people: preserves and protects. Christmas is about the coming of the one who preserves and protects his people through his redemptive work on the cross. Christmas also points to the consummation of this preservation and protection at the second coming of Christ who glorifies us in his kingdom.