We know that when it comes to having a child, it’s the mom who does all the work. She carries the child for nine months and takes on the all the discomfort that goes with it. Her body is stretched and changed in ways that would be hard to fathom if we didn’t see it happen all the time in pregnancies. And of course after nine months of work, the real labor begins. Either she actually has to go through labor or she has surgery that that then requires a period of healing and recovery.
Yet while mom does all of the work, she has absolutely no role in determining the sex of the child she carries. As we now know every egg created by the woman carries a X chromosome. It is in fact the sperm created by the man that carries either a X or a Y chromosome. Whether the mom carries and gives birth to a boy or a girl is determined by something that is completely outside of her. It is the father who contributes the sex determining chromosome.
In our text for tonight we hear about the announcement to Joseph regarding why Mary is pregnant and is going to have a child. This was, of course, news to Joseph. Mary was betrothed to him. This was more than engagement in our day. Instead it was a legal agreement. The couple was not yet married and certainly had not consummated the marriage, but they were committed to one another in a way that was legally binding.
Mary and Joseph were not married, and they had not been carrying on as if they were. There was nothing here like in our world where a man and a woman move in together as the relationship progresses so that they can “try it out” before deciding to get married.
Instead, we learn that Joseph was a righteous man. This means that Joseph was committed to living according to what God had revealed as his will in the Ten Commandments. There wasn’t going to be any “messing around” before he and Mary were married. However, Joseph had his world turned upside down when he learned that the nice girl he thought he was marrying had been messing around on him. She was pregnant. And Joseph was absolutely not the father.
Joseph was a righteous man. He was not about to marry an unfaithful, fornicating woman. But he was also a merciful man. He was not going to put her to shame. He was not going to make a public example of her and subject her to all the ramifications that could have. So instead, Joseph had decided that he was going to divorce her quietly. He was going to end the legal agreement of the betrothal.
This what was on his mind when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The first piece of news was that Mary was righteous too. She had not broken the Sixth Commandment. She had not been unfaithful to Joseph.
Instead, God was doing something amazing. The child Mary was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit. It was God’s miraculous action that had caused the virgin to be pregnant. She was carrying a boy, and when she gave birth to this son the name had already been chosen by God. The couple was to name him “Jesus” – which means “Yahweh saves” – because he would save his people from their sins.
Joseph was to still take Mary as his wife. And this was important. Unlike a normal pregnancy, Joseph wasn’t going to contribute the factor that decided whether he and Mary were going to have a boy or a girl. Joseph wasn’t going to have anything to do with the biology of this child. But he was in fact going to contribute something – something of far greater importance. Matthew begins his Gospel by saying: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In the previous seventeen verses Matthew has traced the ancestry from Abraham to Jesus. This is important, because Jesus is to be the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham that in his offspring all nations would be blessed. He is to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David that he would have a descendant who would rule forever.
The key contribution of Joseph would not be biology. Instead, he would bestow a royal lineage on Jesus. Joseph descended from Abraham and David. By taking Mary as his wife, he was taking Jesus to be his own child. He was taking Jesus into his family line and by doing so he was fulfilling all of God’s promises.
This is surely not what Joseph had planned. For starters we are told, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.” Now let’s face it. One of the really appealing things about getting married – something a guy in particular really looks forward to – is the wedding night. But for Joseph, his wedding night was not going to be anything like he expected. And for that matter, his first child was not going to be anything he could imagine.
Yet Joseph obeyed the angel. He took Mary as his wife. He took Jesus as his son and in so doing gave Jesus a Davidic lineage. And he cared for Jesus and Mary.
We see Joseph trust and obey God in spite of the fact that things are not going the way he expected. They are not turning out as he planned, and yet he walks the way of faith and demonstrates this by his actions.
As we hear our text, it provides both comfort and guidance. Because the fact of the matter is that there are many times when our lives do not go as we have planned. And when this happens our reaction is often to get angry at God or we doubt his love and care. We don’t want illness and physical hardships. We don’t want our family members to have great struggles. We don’t want failures and setbacks.
But in our text we see first, that God forgives us for this. Jesus came “to save his people from their sins.” His very name means “Yahweh saves.” The baby who was born in Bethlehem made his way to Jerusalem. As we heard on the First Sunday in Advent, he entered the city on Palm Sunday in order to die on the cross on Good Friday. By that death he won us forgiveness. As Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And then on the third day he rose from the dead.
Jesus has won forgiveness for us. And now he continues to give it to us. He gives it through his Word. He gives it in the baptism we have received as we continue to turn to this saving action of Christ in faith. And in the Sacrament of the Altar he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed to forgive our sins.
Not only does Christ give us forgiveness, but in our text we receive encouragement to trust in God no matter what is happening. For we see here that God keeps his word. God had promised Abraham that in his seed all nations would be blessed. He had promised David that his descendant would reign forever. He had promised through Isaiah that his Messiah would bring a victory over all that sin has done.
And then he did it. We see a key moment in this fulfillment happening as Joseph trusts God’s word and obeys the instruction he has received – as he takes this child conceived by the Holy Spirit into the royal line of king David.
Because we have seen what God has done in Christ, it leads us to renewed trust and faithfulness. The Spirit leads us to renewed confidence that God is still in charge, no matter what is happening. And just like Joseph, the faith sustained by the Spirit moves us to live in the vocations where God has placed us. It gives us strength to do the thing that is not so easy; the thing that is not so fun. We can, because we have already seen what Christ has done for us in Jesus Christ.