The Annunciation to Joseph
A new Liturgical Year begins on the First Sunday of Advent. This year many of the Gospel readings at our Sunday Eucharists are from the Gospel of Matthew. On the Fourth Sunday, we read of the annunciation to Joseph, Matt.1:18-24 (Luke’s gospel has the annunciation to Mary).
The narrative relates Joseph’s discovery that his betrothed Mary, was pregnant, but the child was not his. Joseph is now faced with a choice. Matthew describes Joseph as just/righteous, that is, he keeps the law, the highest Jewish standard of holiness. Joseph would know that the Law in Deuteronomy spoke of two cases of pregnancy before marriage, when the woman had been willingly involved (22:20-21) or when she had been forced against her will (22:25-27). Mary’s status, either way, could have been determined by a public trial.
Joseph made a decision: he would not expose Mary to public shame but divorce her quietly, that is, without a trial. Joseph’s righteousness included compassion. Then, in a dream, an angel tells Joseph that Mary’s child is “conceived through the Holy Spirit” and that he should take Mary into his home as his wife. It is only then that Joseph learns of the divine origin of Mary’s pregnancy – after he has made his compassionate decision.
The angel also instructs Joseph to name the newborn son, Jesus. Matthew continues that all this took place according to the Emmanuel prophecy of Isaiah and mentions that Emmanuel means “God with us.” This can be understood that not only is God present in Jesus, but God is with Joseph and Mary through this experience. Joseph obeys the angel, takes Mary as his wife, and names Jesus, adopting Jesus into his family and into the lineage of David.
Pondering on these attitudes/actions of the righteous/just Joseph amidst aspects of the ideological divide in our own country as I write in early December, leads me to two challenges.
First, Joseph is compassionate to Mary who is “pregnant out of wedlock.” In our time and place, while not condoning abortion, does the rhetoric used by the pro-life movement always treat the mother with respect and compassion?
Second, Joseph takes Jesus as his son, fully incorporating him into a Jewish family, even into the line of David. Anti-Semitism has absolutely no place in the thoughts, words or deeds of a faithful Christian who follows Jesus, God Incarnate as a faithful Jewish man. Anti-Semitism is a denigration of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as of Joseph and Mary. The family depicted in our Christmas cribs is a Jewish family.