(Photo: Harvest Ministries)
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
- Luke 1:26-27
To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. Very little is said about him, but he was a righteous man.
Luke's Gospel tells us that Mary was "betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph" (1:27). This arrangement was a little different than engagements of today. According to the rabbinical writings, there were two stages in a Hebrew marriage. The first, known as the betrothal period, was as legally binding as marriage. If at any time during this phase of marriage either person violated their vows, a formal divorce was required to nullify the marriage. Mary and Joseph were legally married, and during the approximate twelve-month period of their betrothal, they had no physical relationship and lived in separate houses. The second stage was the wedding ceremony, which lasted for seven days.
It was in the first stage of their betrothal that Mary became pregnant with the Son of God. Joseph could have divorced her because of this. His heart must have been broken, but he didn't want to make a spectacle out of Mary. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20).
Joseph knew that he would be thought of as the husband of the woman who had broken her vow. And indeed Mary went through life with that reputation. The Pharisees once said to Jesus, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father-God" (John 8:41). In other words, "You were conceived out of wedlock, Jesus."
Joseph was willing to endure all of that. He loved Mary. He obeyed God. And both of them agreed to God's plan.