(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, which extends from Advent through Christmas and into Epiphany. We are reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. My reflections on these will sometimes be put in a blog post.)
We don’t hear a lot about Joseph, the husband of Mary; today’s Bible passage (Matthew 1:18-23) is about the longest in which he appears – and even here never actually speaks. In our church’s Advent Labyrinth last week, one of the stages included pictures of icons of the nativity, which have Joseph sitting in the corner, away from the action, almost excluded – yet still present. And, as Jake Thackray’s song puts it “Nobody sings you any songs”, wondering “What do you make of it all?”
But one important thing that we learn about Joseph from this passage is that he was “a righteous man”, a just man, an honest man. And it’s honesty that stood out for me when reading these verses today.
Earlier in this series of readings, we looked at the genealogies of Jesus, and noted that Matthew lists several women, including Bathsheba. Her initial story is anything but honest. When David finds out he has made her pregnant, he recalls her husband Uriah and tries to trick him into a situation where he could be made to believe that the child is his; when that doesn’t work, David has Uriah killed.
But in this story, Mary is honest about the cause of her pregnancy – however unbelievable her story may seem. And Joseph is honest about his feelings, his doubts about Mary, and his intentions. And so, perhaps as a result of this, God is honest and open with Joseph, telling him clearly what has happened and what is going to happen.
The names given to the child are honest, too: “Jesus [from Joshua, meaning ‘God saves’], for he will save his people from their sins”; and “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us'”.
At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel we are given a clear understanding of who this is whose birth we celebrate at this time. Let us be like Joseph, open to hearing and accepting God’s word, and honest in following God’s commands – even when we do so quietly, out of the limelight.