Joseph’s worst moment became the greatest moment
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-24 (New Living Translation)
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.
In this passage, we hear a portion of the story of how Jesus was born. Our part focuses on the way Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father, was informed about his role in the story.
The text tells us that Joseph and Mary were to be married, which meant that the deal was as good as done, but then Mary came up pregnant. The text knows that it is by the work of the Holy Spirit, but as far as Joseph was concerned, this was infidelity at its most shameful.
Even in spite of this terrible problem, Joseph was attempting to make the least mess of the disaster that he felt his life had become. In his righteousness, he did not wish to shame her publicly, as was his legal right. Instead, he wanted to break up with her privately, which would reduce the shame for her in the public eye. It would not reduce the assumptions about him, though, and whether his acceptance of this child-to-be was an admission of participation.
I am sure Joseph felt completely lost. There was no ideal ending for this story, because he now couldn’t trust the woman he was to marry, and he knew that Mary would potentially be followed by this for the rest of her life.
Once Joseph found a solution, probably making and remaking up his mind many times, the text tells us that an Angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. This angel spoke to him, telling him that what Joseph believed to be his greatest disaster was actually a movement of God.
Mary, the angel said, was pregnant not out of disloyalty, but by the Holy Spirit, to bring about a son, named God Saves, who would save people from their sin. This was almost too much to believe, and perhaps in his most quiet moments Joseph, too, had his doubts, but an angel is a hard sign to deny. What Joseph understandably perceived to be his worst moment was instead God offering a chance to participate in the incarnation of God.
The challenge for us, in Joseph’s story, is to follow his path in understanding that sometimes in our darkest moments, in what we perceive to be a disaster, God may be working.
The hope of Advent is to believe that we are never abandoned by God, that often our worst moment is a place where God is working in us and around us in ways we cannot predict or understand. This means for us there is never a place in our lives, no matter how isolating, frustrating, shameful, or self-caused, where God is not present and not working.
The wonder of incarnation means that God-with-us is always with us. So when you have a moment where you think all is lost, know that this may be a moment when the divine is being conceived in your life and cling to that hope.
The Rev. Cana Moore is Pastor of Hays Christian Church.