Do you put out a Nativity Set with your Christmas decorations? With Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, some sheep, camels, the Wiseman and some shepherds? We have a few, but my mom has several large sets. To me, they always look so peaceful and serene; so cute and quaint, often Mary and Joseph will have halos.
The truth is that setting was anything but calm and peaceful. Mary and Joseph were probably tired and dirty from walking 70 miles. This thanksgiving we went to Edna and then to Childress, a thousand miles in four days, we didn’t have halos it was more like horns! Mary was exhausted from giving birth, Joseph was relieved it was over; he hadn’t had “Lamaze” class.
In Matthew Chapter 1 we will see the human struggles, the stresses, and the challenges of the Joseph in the Christmas story.
Christmas can be challenging time of the year,
Like Joseph I May Be Challenged By…
- Broken Relationships
We live in a country today of broken relationships. Divorce is rampant, 50% of all marriages in the US end in divorce. Most people I know have been affected by divorce. Divorce occurs many times by the choice of one individual, sometimes both, but often one individual will make the choice and the rest of the family is left in the aftermath. Broken relationships are painful and challenging. This is also what Joseph had to face.
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. Matthew 1:18
During their engagement they were no doubt a normal couple anticipating their future together. They were making plans—ready to face the world together. They also talked about the wedding, what they would wear, who would be in the wedding party, and which guests would be invited—all the things a couple talk about even today as they plan for their marriage.
But, one day during this betrothal period, Mary announced she was going to take a trip south to the hill country outside Jerusalem, to visit her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. Her visit stretched into a three-month stay. Joseph must have missed her terribly. When she returned home at last, he was no doubt very glad to see her. Do you remember what it is like to be separated from your true love? Now that separation was over. They were together again. But, then came a sudden shock—a devastating discovery. As the one translation reads Mary, “was FOUND to be with child.” This wasn’t Joseph’s baby and he knew it so instantly THEIR dreams turned into HIS nightmares!
Think of how he must have felt. He had been working hard, preparing for their life together. Now he was faced with what from his perspective could only looked like unfaithfulness on her part. Did Mary tell him about a visiting angel, and how this would be a special child? But not only was her story unbelievable…for a pious Jew like Joseph it bordered on blasphemy. This news also meant Joseph’s reputation would be destroyed…so I’m sure that he was more than hurt. He was ANGRY. What kind of fool did Mary take Him for? To claim that she was pregnant but still a virgin?!
But Joseph couldn’t believe her. How COULD he accept such a story? Would you if you were in his circumstance? No, I think not. He came to the same conclusion you and I would have. Mary had committed adultery. Well, he no doubt endured restless days and sleepless nights trying to decide what to do.
Like Joseph I may be challenged by…
- Tough Decisions
…. he decided to break the engagement quietly. Matthew 1:19c
If they had been living in Moses day that decision would have been taken from him, Mary would have been immediately stoned to death. But the laxness of the Jewish theocracy in Joseph’s day and the infiltration of Roman law gave him two other options.
- He could make her a public example…charge her with adultery in a public court.
She would be shamed, brought to trial, convicted in front of everyone, ruined forever in terms of reputation or….
- …he could quietly, before two or three witnesses, write out a bill of divorce and end their relationship.
There would be no fanfare. It would be less public and few would need know. Mary could simply go away somewhere and secretly bear and raise the child.
The Scripture tells us that after his wrestling emotionally with what he should do. He decides to take option 2 and end their engagement discreetly. As verse 19 says, “…. he decided to break the engagement quietly.” And he would have followed through with that plan had it not been for a message delivered by an angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream. In this miraculous manner Joseph learned that Mary had been telling the truth. And we know the wonderful events that happened from then on as the Christmas event unfolded.
Back up and be sure to note that in Joseph’s part of this event we see a man who endured a great heartache but came out of it on top. This should make us pay great attention to his role in the Christmas story because you and I deal with heart-breaks or challenges all the time. We face dark and difficult situations that are unfair to us…things we don’t understand, broken relationships tough decisions.
Verse 20 says that “As he considered this.” We usually read through things pretty quickly and think that he made up his mind in a quick way, “hum chicken or fish” but the word “consider” means he took some time, it means to “revolve in mind” or “weigh in the mind” (from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 2000 by Biblesoft)
He probably went off alone and thought about what had happened and his thoughts gave way to prayers as he poured his heart out to God. Picture him as he climbed the hills around Nazareth a solitary figure crying to the God he had faithfully served all his life, seeking wisdom to deal with his heartbreaking problem.
Have you ever done that in a challenging time? Just gone somewhere and got honest with God—told Him of your pain, your anguish, and asked for His help? I know that I have and during those times I have felt God’s comforting presence. When I am absolutely honest with God, honest with myself I leave that time knowing God cares and I get some direction for tough decisions. This is because PRAYER CHANGES THINGS!
In life when it looks like everything is against us—when it looks like we can’t possibly win—when it looks like it’s the end and our dreams are crashing down around us, prayer actually changes the whole situation because prayer unleashes God’s power. This power may come in the form of wisdom, an idea we desperately need and can’t come up with ourselves. It may come in the form of courage greater than we can muster. It may come in the form of confidence or perseverance, uncommon staying power, or a changed attitude or maybe even in the form of an outright miracle…(like what happened to Joseph) but prayer does change things! Someone once wisely said, “When we work, WE work, but when we PRAY, GOD works.” And you know, one of the most important “things” prayer changes is US. You see, as we pray we are drawn into the love of God and we begin to see people from His perspective and love them as He does. Prayer provides a perspective on life that we cannot find in any other way.
So, when we face a heartbreak, tough decision, a challenging situation as Joseph did, the first thing we must do is pray Philippians 4: 6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” NIV
Perhaps Joseph thought he had only two options: divorce Mary quietly, or have her stoned. But God had a third option, marry her. In view of the circumstances, this had not occurred to Joseph. But God often shows us that there are more options available than we think. Although Joseph seemed to be doing the right thing by breaking the engagement, only God’s guidance helped him make the best decision. When our decisions affect the lives of others, we must always seek God’s wisdom.
In the next post we will see two more challenges that Joseph had to face and that we will more than likely face this year too.