Imagine that you have a friend, who is engaged to be married, and with their fiancé they have completed the preparations for the wedding ceremony and celebration. Invitations have been sent out and bookings made. And then at that last moment, the relationship breaks up because of infidelity.
What could you say to your friend? Sorry? You’d probably be angry with their fiancé. I certainly wouldn’t expect my friend to try to salvage the relationship.
There are many miracles surrounding the Christmas story. And I think Joseph following through with his marriage to Mary, and his naming and adoption of Jesus as his son are among the greatest miracles in the Christmas story. Because to me, it goes against human nature. Something supernaturally powerful had to happen for Joseph to move from disgrace, confusion and fear to making a home and a family with Mary and Jesus.
What motivated Joseph to do this? I think that God’s love motivates him. God’s love for Joseph is seen in this passage as God meets Joseph in his disgrace, confusion and fear, as God reveals his purposes to Joseph and invites him into his purposes, and as God frees Joseph to act on his good plans. Joseph is able to trust God’s love for him and this world, he is able to recognise God’s presence, initiative and intervention and to respond in a reciprocally loving way.
Firstly, God meets Joseph in his confusion and fear (Matthew 1:18-20)
In verse 18, Matthew reminds us that Jesus is the Messiah. Messiah means ‘anointed’, set apart by God for his purposes. At the very beginning of this narrative, Matthew implies that Joseph has been waiting for the Messiah, but without supernatural intervention he could not have predicted that this was happening now through Mary.
Joseph is disgraced and confused about how to handle Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph knows he’s not the father of Mary’s child. Verse 19, Joseph does not wish to add to the disgrace.
As Joseph is mulling over this, verse 20, God meets Joseph by sending an angel, God’s messenger, to clarify his confusion, calm his fears and affirm that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. How loving and kind of God to find a way to reassure Joseph in his time of need.
Secondly, God loves Joseph by revealing his purposes to Joseph and inviting him into those purposes (Matthew 1:20-23)
Have you ever used one of those ancestry services to trace your family tree? I think generally because we represent a migrant culture, many of us have lost track of the details of our families. But in many other cultures, people can name their ancestors back many generations. Jewish culture at the time of Joseph would have been like that. In Jewish culture, family lines represented certain trades, what land people could farm and live on, and what they could inherit. We learn that Joseph’s family identity matters to God as the passage continues.
In verse 20, the angel’s message from God begins with a personal address to Joseph. God knows Joseph personally by name. The name Joseph itself is rich in meaning. In the Old Testament book of Genesis, Jacob’s wife Rachel calls her firstborn son Joseph, which in Hebrew means ‘to add or to increase’. Rachel named Joseph after her prayer that God would give her more children in fulfilment of his promise to their ancestor, Abraham, that God would make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. So Joseph’s name itself invites a memory of God’s promise to increase his family in number and to bless the world through them. This is part of God’s mission. And the Joseph of Genesis became a powerful ruler and the means of salvation for the people of Israel during a time of famine. So Joseph is being called to live up to his name, to trust God to grow his family, to trust God to fulfil his promises, and to trust God to save and preserve his people so that they can bless the world.
Joseph is also called ‘son of David’. David was a well-known and much-loved king in Israel’s history. He is known for having a heart after God, for praising and worshipping God, and for protecting Israel from its enemies. Calling Joseph David’s son reminds Joseph that he has royal blood in him, he belongs to the ruling class, and it implies that with the Holy Spirit’s anointing, Joseph is able to pass on his kingly title to his adopted son. So reminding Joseph of his ancestry and link to King David implies that Joseph is being called to share God’s heart to provide a King for Israel. Joseph is not to fear taking Mary into his home and adopting her child as his own because God has purposes for Joseph and this child – purposes that are directly connected to who Joseph is called to be and what Joseph is able to give.
The messenger reveals that Mary’s child is conceived by the Holy Spirit – that this child is anointed by God to be Israel’s king. Joseph is being called to trust God in anointing this child – setting him apart for God’s holy purposes to rule.
Revealing that the Holy Spirit is responsible for Mary’s pregnancy also reassures Joseph that she remains faithful and pure. This child is special – not the result of human passion, but of God’s passion for humanity and all his creation. The Holy Spirit’s power brings to life the Son of God in human flesh. This is a miracle, the purpose of God to show that he is doing something new in Jesus, bringing life in Jesus.
In verse 21, Joseph is invited to name the child. By naming the child, Joseph can indicate his acceptance of the child as his own son and rightful heir. In particular, Joseph is called to name the child Jesus. The name Jesus means ‘God saves’ in Hebrew. God’s purpose is that Jesus will be the King who saves people from sin. Sin is what separates us from God – it is all the ways we ignore God, disregard him, or downplay him. God’s purpose revealed to Joseph is that Jesus will make a way for us to be saved from our separation from God and be reunited to him.
Verse 22, Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that God’s purposes were revealed long ago in the Old Testament prophets. Jesus is coming to fulfil the Word of God promised through the prophets, the ancient Scriptures. So Joseph is being asked to believe what the Scriptures have taught him. That God will send a Messiah – an anointed king – to lead his people, bring peace and hope and life, demonstrate his love, and bless all creation. The child Joseph is asked to adopt is God’s loving and long-established purpose for Joseph to bless the world.
They will call this child ‘Immanuel’, verse 23, means that people will recognise God’s loving presence in and through Jesus. Jesus comes to be God with us, which is what ‘Immanuel’ means in Hebrew. This further reassures of God’s purposes for Jesus, and for Joseph claiming Jesus as his heir.
Can you see how much God loves Joseph in revealing his purposes to him and calling him to faith and hope? God delights in Joseph’s meaningful identity and rich heritage. God is adding to Joseph’s family and providing a kingly heir to inherit from him. God reassures Joseph of his involvement, his presence and his anointing and endorsement of this child, and the privilege it will be to raise him. God loves Joseph by revealing the meaning of his Word to him that Jesus will be God with us, fulfil the Scriptures, and save all who, like Joseph, put their trust in him.
Finally, God frees Joseph to act on his good plans (Matthew 1:24-25)
When someone invites you to a wedding, the invitation will reveal the plans for the wedding. But being given an invitation doesn’t necessarily mean that you will attend the wedding. The hearing and receiving of the invitation is one thing. But to be involved in actual event requires something more – an acceptance of the invitation and acting on the invitation by actually going.
Similarly, God has revealed his purposes to Joseph as an invitation to be involved in fulfilling his good plans. Now he leaves it with Joseph to accept the invitation and act on it. This, too, shows God’s love. God’s love frees Joseph to act. Joseph somehow goes from being afraid and ashamed to taking Mary as his wife and making a home with her.
Verse 24 tells us that Joseph believes the messenger and obeys the message. He is freed from his fear and able to accept God’s invitation and act on it. Joseph names Jesus, verse 25, thus adopting him as his heir and welcoming him into his family.
God’s love for us is demonstrated fully through Christ. Jesus meets us in our confusion and fear. Jesus reveals God’s purposes to us. And through the Holy Spirit, Christ uses us to fulfil God’s good plans for us and this world.
As we go from here, I want to encourage us to make space and time in this busy season to experience God’s love meeting us in the midst of our lives. God loves us so much that he invites us to bring all of our worries, all of our cares, all of our sorrows, all of our troubles to him in prayer.
Over the next week, I encourage us all to take some time to remember God’s presence with us and ask him to meet us in prayer as we bring before him all that is on our hearts.
I also want to encourage us to watch for God revealing his purposes to us. I have friends who have been trying to understand God’s leading for their future. Their current jobs are ending, and so they need new ones. Three times different people have told them about an opportunity, and each time their friend said they thought it was a good fit. And after prayer, they agreed that God has revealed his purposes to them through their friends. They applied, interviewed, and start their new roles in the New Year.
God has his ways of revealing his purposes to those who are watching and waiting for him. We’ve had experiences of God using other Christians, his Word, our circumstances, and even recurring dreams to show us what he wants and to guide us. In our experience, the harder the decision or the future experience is going to be, the clearer God makes his will, and the greater the peace God’s Spirit gives. I think that’s why Joseph needed an angel.
But there are also everyday purposes God has for us too. The Scriptures tell us that God has prepared good works in advance for us to do. So when you feel a tug at your heart to do something good, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in God’s ways of peace and love. This is another way we can watch for God’s good purposes and learn to act on the promptings of God’s Spirit. We can trust that promptings are from God’s Spirit by their fruit – is this freeing us to act in ways that are loving, peaceful, joyful, kind, generous, good, and faithful. These are the ways that God invites us to bless the world through Jesus.
Just as God loved Joseph by meeting him in his time of need – God loves us and will show us his plans and invite us to participate in what he is doing.
As we prepare for the celebration of the coming of Christ, and as we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming again in glory, let us remember God’s great love for us in involving us in his purposes through Jesus for this world. May the Spirit empower us to respond to his prompting, to participate in his plans to bring salvation to the world and make his loving presence known, through Christ our Lord. Amen.