The Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan
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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Our gospel today is Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus that we are more accustomed to hearing for Christmas. In this reading today we find one of the few instances where Joseph, whose life we commemorate today, is named.
The gospel relays that during the time of his engagement to Mary, Joseph discovers that she is pregnant. Joseph knows the child is not his, and he knows that Jewish law would find Mary guilty of adultery, an act that brought shame and could be punished with death. The law allowed for Joseph to divorce her. However, because Joseph is a righteous man, he also understands another part of his Jewish heritage: he understands that the law is to be tempered with mercy. So instead of exposing Mary to public disgrace, as the reading says, he decides to dismiss her quietly in a way that would reduce public inquiry into what has happened.
Then an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “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.” Joseph’s response after this encounter leads us to believe that he comes to understand in this moment that the difficult situation confronting him is part of God’s much greater plan.
We don’t know much about Joseph and the gospels do not document a single word from him, but we do know that in action he was faithful to God’s plan playing a crucial role in the protection of Mary and the childhood of Jesus.
While some traditions place Joseph’s death as March 19, it is unclear when he died. We do know that this commemoration falls during Lent, the season we are called to acknowledge honestly our brokenness and to deepen our trust in God’s abundant mercy. May we, like Joseph, listen for God’s voice and with obedience follow the guidance of God’s plan for our lives.
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts)