An Advent Story
But as he considered this... Matthew 1:20.
Joseph did not know Mary very well yet but he knew he loved her. He was deeply attracted by her youth and beauty and he was happy that the betrothal had been arranged. She was from a good family and her parents were satisfied that Joseph would be the proper husband for their daughter. The bride price was fair and that pleased them.
On their part, Joseph's family was relieved that Joseph was getting married. He had been single long enough. He was 27. Mary was younger — 15 — but not so young that the match was improper. Joseph's parents were happy for their son and for the future of their family — that is until they discovered that Mary was pregnant.
Joseph did not want to tell them. He put it off as long as he could but they would have to know at some point and he wanted to tell them about it before anyone else did. He stopped by one evening to talk about the chair his mother wanted him to make for her. He discussed the project, hung around, talked about the weather, and searched for words to say what he must.
His father, Jacob, wasn't paying much attention. He was waiting for Joseph to leave. After a while, his mother realized that Joseph wanted to tell them something. Finally she asked, "How is Mary?"
"Fine. There is a problem..." his voice trailed off.
"Problem? What problem'? How could there be a problem?" asked Rachel. This was the last thing she wanted to hear. "She is a beautiful girl and with some training she will make a good wife. Besides, she is truly devout — isn't she?"
"Yes. She is mother, but. . . "
Joseph mustered all his resolve.
"She is too devout. She is with child."
Jacob's head popped up with a jerk.
"Joseph!" Rachel cried. "How could you? Haven't we brought you up better than that?"
"It wasn't I, Mother."
"It wasn't you? If it wasn't you, who was it?"
"Well — I know it wasn't I, but. . . "
"I thought you said this girl is devout? Do you hear what your son is saying, Jacob?"
"I hear, Rachel."
His mother turned back to Joseph. "What are you going to do? What are we going to do? Are you sure? Who did it? Of course there can be no wedding." Thoughts and questions poured out as the implications of his news flooded her mind.
"Mary claims she has been with no man."
"Then it is best you get out of it, Joseph. Thank the Holy One, Blessed be His Name, you won't be tied down to a crazy woman," said Jacob. "How does she explain the Child?"
"I said she was too devout. She says it was conceived by the Spirit. She said that she had a visitation from the angel Gabriel and he told her so."
"Aii yi yi!"
"I still want to marry her. I've tried to think of how I could. But it would not be right, so I am making arrangements to put her away privately. I came to tell you about the situation and to ask you two to say nothing."
"But Joseph," said his father, now seeing other sides of the problem, "if she is pregnant and there is no other man, the conclusion that it was you is inescapable. You must marry her by law. You know the penalty for not marrying her under these circumstances is death," said his father.
"There will be no death, Father. You know that. Besides, Mary will not hold it against me if I don't marry her. We have talked about it. She will swear to my innocence if necessary. She feels sorry for me. She is very sad, but doesn't blame me for not being able to believe her. She says she will always love me. Like I said, if I could see how it would be right to do so, I'd marry her in a moment."
"But what about her parents and family? What do they say? Do they know? They are not likely to remain quiet."
"I can't worry about them. I want to do what is right before God and for Mary."
"Religion and mercy may be outstripping wisdom. You propose a very risky course, my son," said Jacob. "It sounds pretty crazy to me. What it amounts to is that you will be protecting some scoundrel or an adulteress or both. How is that better than marrying her? You must either find the man or go through with the wedding."
"Father, I love Mary. I think I always will. I told you that if I could figure a way that was right and just, I would marry her. I can see no such way but I can take care of her by making arrangements."
Jacob was not convinced at this point that Joseph should not marry the girl. He did not like the sound of Joseph's idea but he said nothing more at that moment.
Rachel spoke up. "How long have you known about this? Have you had time to think it through? Are you absolutely sure?"
"Mary told me she was pregnant a month ago — right after she got back from visiting her Aunt Elizabeth. I didn't believe her then, but now she is beginning to show."
"What your father says is true, Joseph. How can it be just or right to protect the wrongdoer? How is it more just to put her away privately?" Jacob was grateful for his wife when she asked this question.
"Mother, I have thought it through. I t has been on my mind continually. I've hardly slept for a week. Sometimes I've even wondered if somehow I did it. God knows I have dreamt of it. I have longed for the time. Maybe I did it in some sort of swoon. But, I know I didn't. I asked Mary. She said 'Don't be ridiculous. I told you what has happened. I can't explain it more than that. I would know if it was you or some other man.' When she says things like that it almost seems like the whole impossible story is true and I catch myself starting to believe her."
No one said anything for a few minutes. Rachel broke the silence.
"I don't know how we can say nothing," she said. "People will ask. People will talk."
"Well, you can say she has become ill and the physicians have warned her against getting married."
"Joseph, your father and I will have to think about it. Don't do anything yet."
"Listen to your mother on this. We don't know what to think yet. You need to consider it further yourself, Joseph."
Joseph walked the streets of Nazareth that night. He was angry. He was not satisfied with the results of his conversation with his parents. He went over it in his mind again and again. Instead of settling the matter, their reaction had made everything uncertain again, As he thought more, he became aware again that he was angry because he was heart broken. He did not want to let go of the vision of life with Mary. At the same time he wished he had never heard of her. His confusion and sorrow overwhelmed him.
"Almighty One," he cried, "Blessed be Your Name, why has this happened to me? What have I done to deserve this? Are you trying to teach me something?"
He could pray no further. He thought of Mary. He remembered the tears in her eyes when he had said sarcastically, Did you enjoy your spiritual experience?" He had felt bad when he left her but there was nothing in him to comfort her. He hadn't seen her since; not for two Sabbaths. What was she doing? What was she thinking? Was she sorry? Was she still deluded?
It was very late when he returned to the half-finished home he was building for his bride-to-be and for their family-to-come. He felt bitter.
That night he tossed and dreamed. In one dream an angel came to him and instructed him to wed Mary, for the child was from the Holy Spirit, This dream was followed by dreams of loving her.
When he awoke, he remembered the dream of the angel. He thought about it. He was faced with the major decision of his life. Should he obey the angel of his dream? He remembered his namesake, the Patriarch Joseph, and his dream about his brothers. He thought of the Patriarch interpreting dreams for Pharoah. His own dream needed no interpretation; it required faith.
"Forget the dream," Joseph said to himself. "It was just my wishes coming through I can't marry her it would not be right." He had said this to himself at least a thousand times in the past weeks. This had been his momentary resolution point. This was the only solid ground he had been able to find. His plan combined mercy with justice. It, was the only thing he could do under the circumstances.
While he was thinking these things, from the back of his mind came the words: "Call his name Jesus. Call his name Jesus."
Eventually he became conscious of the refrain going through his head. The instruction was specific and the refrain so relentless that he could not drive it out of his mind. How could he name him Jesus if he were not Mary's husband? Name him Jesus! Besides, he loved her so much.
Suddenly he began laughing. His laughter surprised him and revealed to him that he had decided. He said in a chuckle, "The joke will be on me if it turns out to be a girl." Exuberant, he stepped out into the morning air and set out to find Mary.