“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what it conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the LORD had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” – which means “God with us”.
As Matthew relates the account of the birth of the LORD Jesus Christ to us at the beginning of his gospel he also speaks to us about the proper way to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Christmas miracle. In fact Matthew shows us how to go about seeking to know the LORD as our redeemer. He does this as he relates to us the manner in which Joseph deals with the news of Mary’s pregnancy. Most of us would have responded to such news by dismissing Mary’s tale of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement and its consequences. Whether through hurt pride, anger, fear, or simply through unbelief we would have broken off the marriage and gone our own way. Word of the virgin birth would not have seemed true to us. That is not how Joseph responded. His actions lead us to examine our own responses to the difficult things that God calls us to experience in our lives. Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. His righteousness seems to be something much more than the self righteousness which we often encounter. He genuinely sought to obey God’s leading in this situation. This crisis in his relationship with Mary would be another opportunity for Joseph to live out the obedience of faith. Therefore Joseph pondered it. The words means to think deeply, perhaps even to meditate upon a subject. It seems apparent that part of this meditation involved reflecting upon the message of the scriptures. He wanted to understand God’s purpose for all of this so that he could be believingly obedient even in this hard time.
Joseph’s meditation bore fruit in two ways. It led him into the book of the Prophet Isaiah where he would have read in chapter seven about the necessity of standing firm in faith. God had promised that a day was coming when Emmanuel would come. This coming would in fact be God with us. Could it be that the tale that Mary had told was true? The second was that an angel came to Joseph in a dream giving him specific promises and instructions that must be received and obeyed in faith. Now Joseph had a decision to make which would test him to the very core of his being. He was to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own child. All of this was to be done in obedience to God who was now among us.
Phillips Brooks in his delightful Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” writes these words which not only describe the reality of that first Christmas day, but which continue to describe our own situation today. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Life is filled with hopes. We constantly look forward to something better which is just around the corner. Life is also filled with fears. We have learned through bitter experience that life is hard and that things constantly go wrong. How are we to respond? Joseph meditates upon his situation responding with the Word of God which he then obeys in faith. His response can be described with this classic quotation of Martyn Lloyd-Jones from his book on the Puritans. I found the quotation on the internet this morning. “There are many scriptures which demonstrate that repentance always comes first. You find this in the gospels. John the Baptist precedes our LORD and he preached a baptism of repentance.” Joseph faced his hopes and fears with a desire to cast himself upon the purposes of God. In faith he repented, seeking to yield his circumstances to the LORD. He then obeyed God.
Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ. Preparation for the believer always involves real repentance which brings us to submit all of our hopes and fears to the LORD’s plan and purpose for us. Such repentance leads us to obey the calling of God upon our lives. In recent days we have all been asked on numerous occasions, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Following Joseph’s example that question takes on a much deeper significance. “Are you ready for Christmas?”