In Luke’s account of the Annunciation we are told that after Mary gave her consent to the angel’s message she went in haste to be with her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant in her old age. When Mary came home to Nazareth after a few months away she was showing her pregnancy. Because they had never been intimate this shocked and distressed Joseph. Rather than cause Mary and her family any shame or hurt he made up his mind to call off the marriage. I’m sure he didn’t come to this decision easily but his mind was made up until he dreamed a dream and Joseph did as the angel commanded him; he took Mary as his wife.
Matthew makes it sound so easy – Joseph did as the angel said. But Joseph had to be confused, embarrassed and hurt by Mary’s condition. Can you imagine what a frightening thing this must have been for Joseph? He and Mary were probably in their mid-teens when all this happened. We are in wonder at the faith and trust both of them showed when God intruded into their lives and swept them up in this mystery of Mary giving birth to God’s Son. It is because Mary and Joseph opened their lives to God’s will that all enjoy the reality of Emmanuel – God with us – every day of our lives.
Matthew ends this part of the gospel claiming all this was a fulfillment of a prophecy made centuries ago, ’the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel – God with us. But quote goes back to Isaiah and deals with a totally different situation. Isaiah was trying to convince King Ahaz not to capitulate with the Assyrian armies that besieged Jerusalem. He offers the King a sign, the sign of a young woman conceiving and having a child. It is probable that the young woman in question was the wife of the king, and the son to be born was Hezekiah. This is to be a sign that Ahaz’s dynasty would continue because God was with God’s people. Matthew uses this ancient text and gives it a whole new meaning; God is with us in Jesus, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, one like us in all things but sin.
Joseph did as the angel said; he took Mary as his wife. Joseph and Mary were young people of deep faith and they trusted that God worked God’s will in the ordinary lives of ordinary people. They’d seen so many examples of this in the scriptures on which they had been raised.
Joseph and Mary reached out and took hold of this mystery and made it their own. They would face their unknown future trusting they were doing God’s will and God would be with them. Not as easy thing to do.
There can be times in our lives when we too are invited into the mysterious ways of God. Things happen in our lives that we really don’t want to happen, things that totally upset the way we want things to be. We ask why, maybe we scream why.
Why us, why this, why now? When these bad, sad, challenging things happen in our live, by the same grace of God that sustained Joseph and Mary we too can reach out and grasp these realities of our lives. They come in many different ways; medical tests results that tell us troubled days and nights are ahead. We resist and resent when we hear we can no longer drive our car. We find it so difficult to face the fact that we can no longer live alone in a house that has been our home for years. We are angry and feel victimized when are told the company is downsizing or moving to another place. We are totally frustrated when after all our years of study and preparing for a career there is nothing there for us. Our marriage is on the rocks, our children have no interest in the faith in which we raised them, a spouse or a lifelong friend has died. These shocks and so many other things can take our breath away.
Today’s gospel and its young hero Joseph has so much to say to us. He didn’t simply bow his head and humbly accept what God asked of him. Joseph reached out and grasped the mystery and made it his own. Whatever all this meant, whatever was asked of him he would accept, he would work through it for he trusted God was with him and God would see him through it until his task was done.
As we prepare ourselves for the coming feast of the birth of Jesus, we pray that when circumstances call us to face hard times and hard choices we will have courage of the young Joseph who with fear and trembling opened his life to the mysterious ways of God.