An Advent miracle: can we put ourselves in Joseph's sandals and trust in God against the odds?
Cast your mind back to a time before Advent and imagine this scenario. You are engaged to be married, and the long–awaited wedding day is fast approaching. You love each other and have avoided intimate relations waiting for the precious moment of being declared spouses. Suddenly you receive unexpected news. Your fiancée is pregnant. How would you react to that?
Well, that's what happened to Joseph, Mary's fiancé, according to Matthew 1:18–25. It does not take much to put ourselves in his sandals and imagine his devastation, never mind his sense of betrayal and hurt. And that's before we consider that being pledged to be married was, at that time, somewhat more serious than it is today.
Usually, the commitment period was a year, and it couldn't just be cancelled at any time. In a sense, the fiancés were already considered spouses. To break off the engagement, they therefore had to face a legal divorce, something we would never have to do today.
Joseph only had two options. The first was to report publicly that his fiancé was pregnant, and, according to the law (Deuteronomy 22:23–24), the community would have stoned Mary to death. The second was to secretly divorce her to protect her from public embarrassment and punishment. The biblical account tells us that despite his negative feelings towards Mary, Joseph chose this second option.
But what implications would Joseph's decision have had?
We can imagine the pain for Mary, who, being faithful to God, would be abandoned to face the birth and subsequent education of her child alone. She would have been a single mother, without support, and ostracised from her community. And what about the consequences for Jesus Himself? What would it have meant to grow up and live without a father figure?
It's a sensitive issue in my Latin American context. I know several people who have grown up only under the care of a mother. They grew up with a profound emotional emptiness and a strong desire to have a close relationship of love and healthy authority with a male figure. Currently, too many men, when they face the responsibility that pregnancy and the care of a baby implies, decide to run away and abandon their women.
I heard a dear colleague from Langham Preaching recently say that, although the parable of the prodigal son has taught us great lessons, in our Latin American reality, we need to tell stories of prodigal fathers. These lost fathers who decide to return home and take responsibility for their children's education and for their wives' emotional support.
For Joseph, there was no human solution to the problem, so God stepped in to create one. Instead of letting Joseph abandon Mary and Jesus, He sent an angel in a dream encouraging Joseph to trust Mary and take her home as his wife, and explaining the divine nature of her pregnancy and child (Matthew 1:20–21).
But that was not all. He also told Joseph that he had to take responsibility for the child that would be born. That's why he said: "You will give him the name Jesus." In other words, you will take full charge of the child, receive him as your own son, and give him a legal identity. This was especially significant at the time because Joseph knew that he was from the royal bloodline of David.
The story ends by showing us a changed Joseph, obedient to the message of the angel of the Lord. He did both of the things the angel asked him to do: he received Mary as his wife and took care of the baby that he named Jesus, despite his prior reservations.
So, what does this story tell us? When we have run out of options and it seems like there is no path ahead, God can still create one, even if it seems impossible at the time. He can work both within the laws of the world and outside them, bringing miracles to work his purposes.
Advent is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as His second coming. At this time of the year we must ask ourselves: do we trust in the promises of God and the help he provides, and are we willing to obey Him to help see his purposes come to fruition?
Igor Améstequi is the Director of Langham Preaching for Latin America and lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia.