This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But 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 – Matthew 1:18-20.
The “first” Christmas was not quite the fun-filled holiday we have made it out to be. Joseph finds out the woman he is “pledged” to marry is now pregnant. The text tells us Joseph ‘did not want to expose her to public disgrace so he had in mind to divorce her instead. What a disaster related to marriage and family. You can tell Joseph is greatly discouraged over the whole situation and tries to figure out his options.
Deut. 22:22-27 explains the rules for immorality especially as it revolves around marriage and being pledged. “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
The only exception here for her to not receive the death penalty is if another man forced her. So why did it seem to be “acceptable” for Joseph to divorce her rather than having her executed. Was this a righteous thing to do or a posture of disobedience?
Maximum Sentencing: I sat in a courtroom with a friend who was pronounced guilt of a crime. The first thing that was the first point of concern is how much was a maximum sentence? The judge had the freedom to mitigate that sentence any way that he wanted. I believe that many of the legal punishments in the Old Testament are maximum punishments. Which means that if the full measure of the maximum consequences was served by the judge, then execution would take place. But if the judge choose to mitigate the full sentence of the Law he could pronounce a lesser sentence in variety of ways.
Divorce & Disgrace: Consequently when Joseph discovers Mary has been unfaithful he could have gone before a magistrate and asked for the maximum sentencing. But if the judge wants to dispense a sentence that does not inflict the full measure of the Law they had the right to do so. Joseph chooses to not disgrace her and desires to divorce her quietly to avoid public consequences of her actions. This is considered being faithful to the Law as he seeks to divorce her in such a manner so as to not disgrace Mary in public.
Marriage struggles: While we often celebrate all the “fun-little-family” stuff that goes on at Christmas, this particular family is in major upheaval. Joseph chooses the pathway which brings the least amount of disgrace to Mary. He must also be overwhelmingly discouraged to have Mary appear to be unfaithful to him.
God’s Intervention: After all this God steps in to resolve the dilemma. He points out to Joseph, by sending an angel to communicate to Joseph, that it is ok with God that he takes Mary as his wife.
So much for “merry Christmas” – this sounds tragic and disastrous in every sense of the word.
I hope your Christmas, in spite of the circumstances, is filled with the joy of the presence of Christ.