This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about : His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
A week today it’s Christmas Eve! It’s funny because on the one hand it seems to have come round really quickly this year. On the other, since Christmas seems to begin in the retail world in August these days, it seems to have been coming for a very long time. I suppose it’s the combination of the two that means that the Big Day just creeps up on us!
It’s unlikely that Christmas Day crept up on Mary and Joseph. I think that they must have had a rather interesting nine months before the birth of Jesus.
Matthew says surprisingly little about Mary in his account of Jesus’ birth. We get a sense of the remarkable situation in which she found herself, however. She was a young girl, engaged to Joseph. One day, much to her great surprise, she discovered that she was going to have a baby. What’s more, before she and Joseph ‘came together’ “she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”
What thoughts must have been running through her head? How can I have a baby, I’m a virgin? Can the baby I’m carrying really be God’s son? Why me? How on EARTH am I going to explain this to Joseph? Is he going to call off the marriage? What will happen to me and my child? Will anyone believe me? Will I be rejected by my family? Will I be an outcast?
Will I be stoned to death for sleeping with someone else whilst betrothed? That’s how it could look to others…
Was this an exciting time for Mary? A worrying time? A challenging time? A daunting time? Probably all of these!
What about Joseph? We get a picture of a decent man – a good Jew “who was faithful to the law,” who did not want to expose Mary “to public disgrace,” and therefore decided “to divorce Mary quietly.” One word from him and Mary would indeed be stoned. But he was not that kind of guy. And he cared too deeply for Mary to allow that to happen.
I’m not surprised he wanted to call off his marriage. It must have been incredibly humiliating to discover that his fiancée was pregnant, carrying a baby that could not possibly be his. How upsetting for him. He thought he had his future worked out – a good life with Mary – and now it looked like it was going to come to an end before it had even started.
But then one night an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
What. A. Revelation. His fiancée was carrying the son of God! God himself! How utterly remarkable. Mary, his Mary, was going to give birth – to God?!
I cannot begin to imagine how stunned Joseph must have been by this revelation. But, since he was a good man, he did exactly what he was told and “took Mary home as his wife.” What’s more, “he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth.
We have here a picture of two decent, upright, honest, devout, kind people, who honour and respect God, and who honour and respect each other.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a few more people like this in the world today?
Well you know what they say, “be the change you want to see!”
Of course, we could hardly look at this passage without reflecting on verses 22 and 23:
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
The baby that Mary will bear is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. He is the long-awaited Messiah, sent by God to rescue his people. Indeed, this baby will BE God – Immanuel – God With Us.
There’s a chorus in a contemporary carol that hits me hard every time I sing it :
And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan.
I’ve known the story of Jesus’ birth for forty odd years now, but singing that chorus still gets me every time. It’s a succinct expression of the truth of Immanuel.
Mary held God in her hands.
The one who gave life to all was born in the night.
God’s plan for humanity was revealed through the birth of this baby boy.
So, how can we be more like the decent, God-loving Mary and Joseph today and in the weeks and months ahead?
And what does it mean to us that Jesus is Immanuel – God with us, born to humanity, dwelling amongst us? What does it mean to us that our God should enter our existence in order to save us from our sin, and to reunite us to him?