Matthew 1:18-19 (CEB)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.
A few weeks ago, my son Andrew and I were golfing with a friend, Bill, who we had met (on a golf course) a few years earlier. Over the course of our round, I mentioned to Bill that Andrew had thoughtfully given his mother a birthday present of four tickets to the Boston Pops in Mesa, taking place later that day, and that Andrew and his wife, Flannery, would be joining Kathleen and me. It was a special celebration for us as it was Kathleen’s first social outing (outside of church) since her illness. Bill reacted with a hesitant smile, then added that he too was going to that very same Boston Pops concert with a “friend.” We asked Bill where he would be sitting and he was quick to point out he had been invited by his friend and did not know where they were sitting. Then he added that his friend was only a friend, and that she was “with child.” He was compelled to clarify that they had met as graduate students and he was not the father of the coming baby, AND that they had had no relations. They were just “friends.”
The Bible passage from the Book of Matthew quoted above puts the spotlight on young Mary and Joseph, her then fiancé. Although we don’t know much about Joseph, an older working man, perhaps a carpenter, we know that, in biblical times, it was against the law of the land to have a child out of wedlock as well as relations outside of marriage. To his credit, Joseph did not “run for the hills’ and leave Mary. Nor did he “turn her in” to the authorities. Joseph demonstrated strength of character, quiet confidence and a steady hand. His plan to call off the engagement “quietly” was not acted upon. No doubt the Holy Spirit was at work helping Joseph choose the harder path of staying the course, providing the inner faith to survive this time of awkwardness and confusion.
The passage also refers to the virgin conception as the work of the Holy Spirit. Personally, I have never thought to scrutinize this miracle. I accept it. At a recent Thursday morning class at PVUMC on “The Person and The Work of the Holy Spirit,” all of us (older men) agreed on the miracle. At my other class, the Sunday morning Wesley Study Group (a more diverse group), we rarely agree on anything and I will leave it at that.
In continuing my story, at the concert, Andrew and I ran into Bill (through the mystery of texting). Bill introduced us to his friend who was a delightful person and who seemed genuinely happy to meet friends of Bill’s. We were able to look her in the eye and congratulate her.
As a postscript, I later invited Bill to our PVUMC Christmas Concert and encouraged him to bring a “friend.”
Prayer: O Holy Spirit, help us prepare during this Advent season to make this the best Christmas ever. Remind us of the example of Joseph. Help us to be less critical and more supportive of others. Help us be less judgmental and more forgiving. Help us to be less defensive and more trusting. Help us to think of ourselves less and of others more. Help us to be happier with less comfort as we do more for others and, in so doing, find true meaning and purpose in our lives. Amen.