Joseph wrenched himself from his fitful sleep, drenched in sweat. He hadn’t slept much that night because today was the day he was going to have to tell Mary and her family that the wedding was off. It was a terrible decision to have to make…and one that he really didn’t want…but what else was he to do?
He was a respected member of the community, a craftsman of some skill. People looked up to him even though a few had raised their eyebrows when he fell in love with a much younger woman, not much more than a girl really, and had asked her to marry him. She had shyly said “yes” and filled his heart with joy. But then…
Then…she had told him that she was pregnant. She said that she didn’t really understand how it had all happened, but assured him that she had not been unfaithful. She was so young and had been so sheltered growing up that Joseph could well believe she didn’t understand all that had happened to her. But, happen it had…and she was already beginning to show.
He was sure of one thing: he was not about to humiliate her further. This had to be done as quickly and as quietly as possible. The rabbis would work with him in seeing that it was all done according to the Law. But it was still not going to be easy!
So, he asked to meet with Mary and her family the very next day and tried to get at least a little sleep before what might be the most painful and difficult thing he had ever had to do. But sleep didn’t come easily that night! In one of those “half awake, half asleep’ moments he found himself reliving that last awful conversation he had had with Mary.
She had tried to explain a troubling and confusing night of her own some months ago. Confronted by a messenger from God, like an “angel” she said, who pronounced her blest and said that she was going to conceive and give birth to a son, whom she was to name “Jesus.” The language used to describe this child sounded an awful lot like what they had all been waiting for! He would be “great and be called the Son of the Most High.”
He was even, according to this messenger, to be “given the throne of David and would reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” There would be “no end to his kingdom.” Well, wasn’t that what they all wanted? Liberation from their Roman oppressors? A restoration of the “glory days” of King David when they were free…
“Free to worship (God) without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of their lives? Hadn’t they all prayed that “the dawn from on high would break upon them…guiding their feet into the way of peace?” Now the angel promised that she would be blest…that the Almighty was to do great things for her.” That, in her, “God had remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he had made to the fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever!” (see Luke 1:46 and following for the above).
Well, Joseph had made her stop right there! It didn’t really make any sense to him and he didn’t want her to humiliate herself even further by lying to him, or making up some fantastic story. He loved her too much for that. Yet, he hadn’t seen her since that conversation.
But he was dreaming about it now. Or living it over again in his mind in those tortured moments when he woke up. Suddenly he began to think, “But what if it’s all true?”
And he too found himself confronted with this “messenger of light.” “Joseph,” the voice seemed to say, “you are a descendent of David. You know the prophecies…don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife! The child within her is a gift from God! She’ll bear the child, name him Jesus, and he will be the salvation of his people. Remember the prophecy, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”
“Emmanuel,” Joseph said out loud as he sat up straight on his mat, dripping with sweat, “That means, God is with us!” And maybe…just maybe…he really is!
So…the day worked out considerably better than Joseph had feared. He splashed water on his face, got dressed, and paced back and forth in his room until dawn arrived and then tried to wait until the time of his appointment with Mary and her parents. He couldn’t wait, of course, but they really didn’t seem to mind when he arrived some two hours early.
Didn’t mind because, they would never even know what he had thought about doing on this particular day. For, instead of breaking the terrible news about a dissolution of their relationship, Joseph was all about making plans for their wedding day. About the joy and celebration of their upcoming marriage. And…about preparation for the birth of their son.
Yes, Mary remembered later, that’s what he called him…”their son!”