18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary and Joseph had promised to get married. But before they started to live together, it became clear that she was going to have a baby. She became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph was faithful to the law. But he did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly. 20 But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That’s because he will save his people from their sins.”22 All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, 23 “The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name Immanuel means “God with us.”24 Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not sleep with her until she gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew 1: 18-25 (New International Reader’s Version)
We’re coming down the homestretch for Christmas, with yesterday being the Fourth Sunday in Advent. For the bulk of my Advent posts, my subject was Mary, Jesus’s mom, and her experiences prior to the birth of her son. We saw that Mary was alone in her situation and wondered about her future whilst waiting for the coming Christ.
Today however, I want us to focus on another individual who was just as lonely as Mary: Joseph, Jesus’s future dad (or stepdad).
In today’s scripture, Joseph just received the news that his fiancee Mary was pregnant with Jesus; of course it wasn’t Joseph’s child. Now let’s stop right there for a moment. Like many a man, Joseph probably thought “Yeah, right.” I know most cats would have dropped Mary like a bad habit-pregnant or not-me included. Joseph was no different than me or any other man. However, Joseph was a fair cat was was going to break up with her quietly instead of publicly disgracing her. You see, Joseph was faithful to the Law of Moses (verse 19), which gave him the power to demand that Mary’s dad refund him the “bride price” he paid for Mary since she would have been “damaged goods”. Plus, if memory serves me correctly, Mary could have been accused of adultery and quite possibly stoned (even with her fetus inside her). However, an angel appeared to Joseph…and the rest was history.
Now conventional Sunday School presents Mary and Joseph as the happy couple ready to bring Jesus into the world. Uhh…not quite. You see, both Mary and Joseph were alone. Mary was alone in that she was carrying a baby that wasn’t Joseph’s and had to face the indignity of her pregnancy. Joseph was alone that he had to bear the stings of others-especially men-who probably thought the he got cuckolded and was being a sucker for taking in Mary. Ultimately, both wound up a lonely couple during this period of waiting…waiting for the coming Christ…
…And one day, their son, Jesus, will grow up and ultimately be alone himself. He will be alone-despite disciples and devotees; and will die alone on a cross…
Loneliness is still in Advent; as many today await the coming Christ. The childless widow/widower who works long hours at the office because they cannot go home to an empty house. The divorcee abandoned despite being promised “’til death do us part” fighting loneliness admit the happily coupled. The orphan alone at college with no one to go home to for the Holidays. The soldier in Afghanistan facing another Christmas away from family and in the midst of death and destruction. The refugee coming into a strange land away from that which he/she was familiar with. The lonely sitting in our churches trying to find solace and strength in the Season’s sermons and songs. Even the Holiday reveler admit the celebrating throngs can still be lonely inside.
Advent can be a lonely time for many of us, as well as Mary and Joseph. As we await the coming Christ, may God give us the strength to handle the loneliness. May He/She show us that He/She is there during this time; closer to us than our own breath. May the strength He/She gave a lonely couple named Mary and Joseph be given to us today.
(Image: Lonely stretch of road in Monroe Township, NJ)