Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
// Matthew 1:18-19
"Being just a man…” What a statement – one we can all relate to. When God asks big things of us or puts us in situations that are way over our heads, we can feel a little of what Joseph felt at this time. Sometimes we tend to romanticize the Gospels in such a way that makes us miss the very human, frail moments of these real characters, but they were people, just like us.
Because the Semitic tradition of marriage began with engagement, not the nuptial ceremony itself, Joseph would have been considered as married to Mary, but not yet consummated with her. So, technically and culturally, Mary would’ve been seen as an adulteress, and this event would’ve been common knowledge to their neighboring villagers, who all lived in an agrarian society.
Joseph was obviously an honorable guy, but still, he was just a guy. In his culture, the most honorable option left for him was to resolve to quietly divorce Mary. To stay married to her and to build a family together would have been a shameful thing for both families involved. At this stage, Joseph was unaware of the divine involvement of God Himself. What looked like a disaster for him and his family, a shameful and embarrassing moment, was actually the greatest moment for all of humanity, including Joseph.
Salvation, or the welcoming of Christ into our lives, can be very similar to Joseph’s experience of welcoming this new baby. It’s never ideal, convenient or logical. Like Joseph, we have nothing to do with it – at this stage he played absolutely no role in bringing this baby into the world. God's arrival usually causes us a level of shame in front of others, a feeling of embarrassment about believing in an invisible God, or confusion about how it even came about.
Joseph’s family, friends and neighboring villagers would have wanted an explanation for Mary’s pregnancy and he had none – not yet anyway. Sometimes the hardest thing for us is being associated with other believers. Joseph’s association with Mary was threatening his own reputation and his future within his community. In the same way, being planted in and part of Christian community can be trying, and our reputations are all wrapped up together in many ways. But through the mess and the unknown God always has a plan.
We may plan to quietly divorce our community or remove ourselves from a difficult situation, but God desires for us to see there is more to every situation than we first realize. It’s in the remaining, in our connection to the unknown, that the world will be astonished. It may not have been clear to those around Joseph for some time, but it did become very clear over time that his eventual decision to stay with Mary was for a greater purpose than the protection of his own reputation.
Whether we feel like Mary – pregnant with great hope and joy – or like Joseph – trying to understand what’s happening, as the invisible God starts to impact our lives – it’s normal to feel like “just a woman” or “just a man” with human emotions and weaknesses. It’s these normal, human responses that allow God’s not-so-normal glory to shine through our lives the most.