Merry Christmas from Dave and Laura Wilder at Treasured Relationships!

Today is Christmas Eve, and on this special day we want to call everyone’s attention to a part of the “Christmas Story” that gets very little attention.  This morning Laura suggested that I send you a brief message about Joseph and what we know about this man who God chose to be the earthly father of Jesus.  I have mentioned to her several times over the past week that I really want to send a Christmas greeting to the Treasured Relationships community, and of my intention to do so.  And yet, day after day, one thing or another has come up that took much more time than I anticipated.  Each day of this past week I’ve run out of time to do the items on my “Must Accomplish Today” list.  Do you ever have times like that?  I think we all do.  So today, while having our coffee and quiet time together, Laura brought up Joseph.  I think God was speaking to me through my wife, and that not only is this the right message to share with you but also the right timing.

We don’t know a lot about Joseph, but the things we do know about him are significant.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.  His actions toward Mary reveal that he was kind and sensitive.  When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, he had every right to feel disgraced.  He knew the child was not his own, because they had not had sex.  They were “betrothed” to be married, which is a custom we don’t follow today.  From the time of the agreement, usually set by the parents when the children were young, they were considered married; but they would not live together until after their wedding ceremony.  We can assume that they were looking forward to having children together.  But not yet!  And it was apparent to Joseph that Mary was unfaithful to him.  Joseph had every right to end the engagement immediately.  And Mary, under Jewish law, could be put to death by stoning.

Joseph's first reaction was to break the engagement, the appropriate thing for a righteous man to do.  But he had no desire to punish Mary by making an issue of this situation publicly, which would bring shame to Mary and her family, and would possibly end Mary’s life.  What we see, even if Joseph’s first reaction to the news of Mary’s pregnancy, was extreme kindness.  He decided to act quietly in ending the engagement.

Mary’s story of an angel appearing to her and telling her that the “Spirit of God” would come on her and she would conceive a baby without ever having been sexually active, certainly sounded unbelievable.  Any person hearing such a tale would question it.  To Joseph, the only reasonable explanation was that Mary had been sleeping with some other man.

Now, if we follow the story closely, we know that Mary was about 3 months pregnant when Joseph finds out about her situation.  An angel had come to Mary with this news, and told Mary to go visit her cousin, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, were advanced in age and had never had children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive.  And now, well past menopause, she had long since given up any hope of them having a baby.  But the angel had appeared to Zechariah, who was a priest serving in the temple, and told him that they would be having a baby, who would be the forerunner of the long-awaited Christ.  Their baby was named John, and became known as “John the Baptizer” who called people to repent of their sins and get ready to meet the Messiah.  Elizabeth had been pregnant for 4 months when Mary went to visit them, and Mary stayed there for 3 months before returning home.

So here’s Joseph, whose fiancé had suddenly gone off to visit relatives with no prior talk of an upcoming trip.  Then she stayed gone for three months, and when she returned she told Joseph this crazy story about her still being a virgin, but also being three months pregnant.  Unbelievable.  Really.

But then God sent an angel to Joseph, and this angel both verified what Mary had said and assured him that his marriage to her was God's will.  Joseph was obedient to God.  He did what God said, even though it didn’t make much sense to him and even though he would face public humiliation for them having a baby way too soon after the wedding.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Joseph's role as father to Jesus Christ, but we know from the first chapter of Matthew that he was a man of integrity and righteousness.  He was a carpenter by trade, and taught Jesus to be a skilled craftsman as well.  Joseph raised Jesus and the other children he and Mary had together in the Jewish traditions and spiritual observances.  (Their sons were Jesus, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.  Their daughters are mentioned in the scriptures, but we don’t have their names.  And there may have been other sons as well.  Mary and Joseph didn’t have sex until after Jesus was born, but were obviously a normal married couple after that.)

Here’s what we know about Joseph’ qualities as a man:

·         He was kind and sensitive toward his wife.

·         He was merciful, even when he thought he had been wronged.

·         He was obedient to what God said to do, even if it was something others might not understand.

·         He did the right thing before God.

·         He had strong convictions and lived out his beliefs by his actions.

·         He was described in the Bible as a righteous man.

·         He practiced self-control.

·         Joseph is a wonderful biblical example of integrity and Godly character.

Life lessons for couples today:

Marriage and family life is extremely important to God, and we find instructions about how to live together as husbands and wives throughout the Bible.  Sometimes those instructions from God go against what comes natural for us.  Sometimes they go against what others tell us to do.  But if we really want to have great marriages, the way to do that is to follow God’s revealed intentions for how to do marriage God’s way.

Men, I challenge you to strive to be more like Joseph.  Live with your wife and children in such a way that you are obedient to God.  Do this even if you ridicule from other men who are not doing the same.  If your friends tell you to do otherwise, change friends.  Anyone who tells you to go against God’s will in your life is working for the enemy (Satan), so surround yourself with other Godly men.  Learn and follow what God says about how to live in general, and how to live with your wife in particular.

And ladies, I want to encourage you to learn and follow what God says about how to live as well.  The Bible is very clear in giving instructions to both men and women about marriage and family life.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus today and tomorrow, let us realize that the whole reason we celebrate His birth is because of what God did and continues to do through him as an adult.  Christmas points us to the cross and the empty grave.  God sent Jesus to live as a human so that through Jesus God could teach us how to live; and so that Jesus could pay the penalty for our sins at Calvary.  Through Jesus the Christ, God has conquered sin and death.  Through Jesus the Christ, we can live together as husbands and wives in such a way that our marriages reflect God’s love to the world around us.  Yes, that’s in the Bible.  But it is a topic for another day.

May God richly bless each of you, your marriages, and your families in powerful ways today and every day to come.

Scripture references: Matthew 1:16-2:23 and Luke 1:22-2:52.