James and Joseph, Judah and Simon, you know Jesus is alive! I have shared with you some of the memories I have had hidden in my heart all these years. As I have told you, Jesus is not your full brother - Joseph was not his father. Yet Joseph has been my only husband and the only man I ever had.
For all the years until he died Joseph never so much as hinted to anyone that he was anything other than Jesus' father. He was a good kind man - so generous and loving towards me, wanting to save me from embarrassment and recrimination, wanting to maintain protection for Jesus.
With one another, of course, we were very open, and I need to tell you his side of the story.
The visit and announcement of the angel had been amazing to me. I went through a mixture of fear, confusion and puzzlement, but came to a position of reassurance and comfort. I deeply believed that God was going to be at work in me and really committed myself to his will, "I am the Lord's servant; may it happen to me as you have said." And when I knew that I was pregnant, though still a virgin, that too was confirmation of the angel's word.
Now I had to share the news with Joseph. We were engaged to be married. I was sure he would share my joy and the commitment I had made to be available for the Lord's will.
"Joseph," I said, "the Lord has sent his angel to me to tell me I'm going to have a baby - and I'm already pregnant!" I saw his face drop. "Joseph, he told me it would all happen by the working of God's Spirit, by God's power resting upon me." He didn't say a word, but his thoughts were written on his face - "Likely story! Not you, my dear Mary!" " Joseph, you must believe me! This child is to be called the Son of the Most High God! It sounds like the promised Messiah is about to come!"
But I hadn't convinced him! Doubt and anxiety were written all over his face. I had been quite open with him. I knew that this child would need his welcome and protection too. Suddenly I felt very vulnerable. I had assumed that Joseph would just accept my story. I had always told him the truth and was doing so right now.
I could see by his face - and by his silence - that he was turning it all over in his mind. There was a shadow - a questioning of my truthfulness and faithfulness. It's not the kind of doubt that makes for a good marriage. And if he broke off the engagement, I could be the subject of public shame and scorn - or worse! Except that Joseph was a good man and would act with kindness, not bitterness or revenge!
As you know, our society regards engagement very seriously - and a time for chastity and faithfulness. The promise to marry is as binding as marriage itself and can only be broken with a certificate of divorce.
Joseph left me. I was still confident of God, but uncertain of my own position - believing in what God was doing, but unsure of what humankind might do. I thought of that Psalm we sing, "Give yourself to the Lord; trust in him, and he will help you; he will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun" (34.5-6). Yes, I could do nothing else. I must simply trust the Lord. He alone would show that I have not done wrong, that I have not been a loose and unfaithful woman.
The next time I saw Joseph, his face was changed - the cloud had gone! I knew that something had happened to bring him clarity and peace.
"Mary," he said with his usual caring kindness, "I had a dream last night and now I know, now I understand! You were so right! Why did I ever doubt you? Yet I had to be sure. Somehow it was too vital, too important just to take even your word for it. It looked so terribly, terribly wrong! In a sense, how dare I believe it to be right?"
Joseph was a good man, a just man and a very honest man. What had happened that had so strongly persuaded him? What did he dream?
"Mary, I had gone to bed troubled last night. What should I do? What was it right to do? How could I act towards you with justice and yet with kindness? Those were my last thoughts as I dropped off to sleep. Suddenly I was wide awake, or so I thought. The room was filled with light and I saw him so clearly - the angel of the Lord! But carpenters don't see angels, I thought. He's come to the wrong place if he's looking for Mary - we're not married yet! We have some unusual thoughts in dreams! The words flashed through my mind - 'Not yet, or ever?'
"Just then it became clear he had come to the right address after all, for he said, 'Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived.' God can speak through dreams if he wants to, but why me? Do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife, he had said. That would resolve my quandary, but how could I be sure it wasn't just wishful thinking?
"I suppose those were my thoughts afterwards, after I woke. At the time it was so vivid - 'Mary will have a son, and you will name him Jesus - because he will save his people from their sins.' That was the name you told me about, wasn't it, Mary?"
Yes, Jesus is to be his name, I said. I had scarcely thought about it before, but I already knew I was having a boy baby! And that was how it was with Elizabeth too! But Joseph, your word says something new - "he will save his people from their sins". We need another Joshua to rescue us from the Romans, but that's not why Jesus is coming. He will have a mission to rescue people from sin. I wonder if the leaders and all the people will like that!
But Joseph went on, "No, it's not wishful thinking, Mary! I thought, the prophecy of Isaiah is coming true, after all! 'A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel'. Immanuel - that means 'God with us'! That is saying in different words, but just as clearly that he is to be 'the son of the Most High God' as the angel said to you.
"It was a dream, but not 'just a dream'! A hope that can be fulfilled without any wishful thinking!"
Then he gave me such a definite, yet serious smile - "Mary," he said, "I am making arrangements for us to be married without delay! I will be your husband, yet I will not take you into my embrace until after the holy child has been born. Come, Mary!"
Joseph was so tender, so understanding. I was his wife, yet he did not have me and hold me. The baby to be born was not his, yet to be cared by him in trust for the heavenly Father. Perhaps, in part, it was the way Joseph would remind him about the heavenly Father that led Jesus to remind us all that we have a heavenly Father!
But, my sons, James and Joseph, Simon and Judah, you are carrying on the carpentry business. What do you think of Jesus now, now that you know he is alive? Heaven isn't remote any more - not when we know Immanuel, God with us!
Soon afterwards I went off to see my relative Elizabeth. I remember singing to her, "My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Saviour, for he has remembered my his lowly servant!" (Lk.1.47-48). Elizabeth's son John would have important work too - preparing the way for Jesus - "to tell his people that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven" is how his father Zechariah put it after his birth.
Elizabeth felt privileged that her Lord's mother had come, but I knew that Jesus was coming to save me from my sins. For you too, my sons! Don't miss out on the gift of God! He came for you!