By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Despite his long and impressive lineage, Joseph receives only brief mention in the gospel accounts. But in today’s passages, the author of St. Matthew gives closer attention to Jesus’ earthly father, the scion of fourteen generations stretching from Abraham to David. This was fourteen generations of humans begetting humans, yet Joseph now finds himself espoused to a woman who is pregnant with the Holy Ghost’s child.
Being engaged, Mary and Joseph are as good as married, in accordance with the customs of their time and culture. Joseph could have shamed Mary by making her a public example; but we learn that he is righteous, which moves him to consider “putting her away privily,” or divorcing her, protecting her from community condemnation, or worse, saving her from the Torah requirement of stoning.
But Joseph’s character is more fully revealed in his willingness to reflect on this very unusual situation and then to heed the angel’s instructions and prophetic words. In his dream, Joseph learns what his, Mary’s, and Jesus’ future will be, and that he will play a significant part in it: while Mary’s role is to bear God’s son, Joseph’s is to name that son Jesus, thereby acknowledging his earthly responsibility for him, and bringing Jesus into the house and lineage of David. Jesus will also be named by the people whom he has come to save from their sins, when they refer to him as “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.”
Mary and Joseph are models of obedience to God’s command, a kind of inverse of Adam and Eve, whose disobedience caused humanity’s fall. That obedience created a new and deeper bond between them and with God, whose dream for the world they helped make come true.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Christians in other denominations and the work of the ecumenical movement
His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome
His All Holiness Archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches
Bishop Ivan M Abrahams, General Secretary World Methodist Council
The Rev. Chris Ferguson, General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches