The Pregnant Fiancée
My dad and mom thought I had to get married. I got engaged in April and planned to get married the following spring. Plans suddenly changed when Mary, my fiancée, couldn't get a job near where I went to school in western New York. She returned to her hometown in Nebraska, found work, and we fast forwarded our wedding date to December 23. My parents weren't happy and part of their upset was that they thought Mary was pregnant. But the wrath of parents who think their future daughter-in-law is pregnant is nothing compared to the wrath of a first century Jewish man who discovers his betrothed has a baby in her womb.
Betrothal was serious business in first century Galilee and Judea. Though the marriage was often not consummated for a year, it meant the couple was legally married, and this was Mary and Joseph's commitment to each other. Matthew doesn't tell us how Joseph discovered the pregnancy. Check out the text.
Joseph and Mary have certainly not had intercourse (Matthew 1:18). The baby nestling into Mary's womb is the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit, but Matthew lets us in on the secret, not Joseph. Faced with these circumstances, some in the religious culture I was raised in would have hit the fan.
“A young teenage girl who gets herself knocked up —she needs to be publicly exposed and shamed. This will serve as an example to other teenager girls to guard their virginity.” Many first century Jews would have responded the same, but not all.
The text stresses that Joseph is a righteous man. He's a good, law-abiding Jew, but instead of wanting to destroy Mary, he wants to divorce her secretly. Instead of acting in rash anger, he carefully thinks about how to handle the situation without destroying the woman who is legally his wife.
There is intense tension in Matthew's riveting account of Jesus' conception. Before we move so quickly to the miraculous, joyful resolution of Joseph's dilemma, we need to learn from Joseph's reaction to what he believes is his wife's adultery; we need to allow the Spirit, who impregnated Mary, to generate Joseph's kind, gentle, patient and righteous response when he believed he had been betrayed.
LORD, you have reminded me through Joseph's example in Matthew's Christmas story of a young woman in our church who did get pregnant out of wedlock. Thank you for elders who joined me in not condemning her but helping her to find forgiveness in Jesus, and that now many years later she is still following Jesus in spite of some severe tests in life. Help me not to be an angry moralist, but long suffering like Joseph, Jesus' legal dad.
P.S. Our firstborn son came four years after our wedding date. It was a long pregnancy.
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