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18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

In Joseph, we confront the limits of public, and thus human, concepts of morality and the potential of limitless love. Joseph, Matthew tells us, was a righteous individual, implying a measure of civic, religious, and personal responsibility. He was righteous, not in the sense of smug sanctimony, but more along the lines of being trustworthy, reliably sensitive to the presence and comfort of those around him. He wasn’t one to cut others off, ignore someone’s feelings, or neglect to consider how his actions would impact everyone from a stranger to a loved one or from a household to a community. As such, he would be aware of the cultural mores of the community and pay attention to the community’s expectations of him. Joseph was a decent guy. 

And suddenly, through no one’s fault, Joseph was thrust into the mental and emotional spin cycle of moral complexity. It would not be the first instance of unexpected pregnancy, nor would it be the last. However, it could possibly be the only unexpected pregnancy that didn’t involve the term oops! Neither Mary nor Joseph would have any cogent words to articulate the how of their predicament, but both would surely comprehend that there would be a windstorm of words, assumptions, critiques, censure, and disparagement swirling about them once the news got out or the baby bump appeared.

Matthew says, “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” That would be the expedient thing to do, possibly quelling the tornado of gossip that threatens to undo them. Yet, don’t you think Joseph, despite having the gentleman’s handbook memorized (Brooks Brothers actually offers one of these), at some level knew such a move would allow him to escape the public defamation, while offering no such comfort for Mary?

What God reveals before them is an alternative to the prescription of social convention. The calling of righteousness is not meeting the expectations of public propriety, but pursuing the demands of love, for it is seldom the arbiters of moral rectitude who inspire hope, but the admittedly flawed folk who commit themselves to others, and hold onto them when the storm hits. 

As Cary Grant observed in The Philadelphia Story amidst the muddle of social convention and the complexities of the heart: “You'll never be a first class human being … until you've learned to have some regard for human frailty.” That God would pursue the work of love amidst, and in spite of, the blowback of social gossip and reproach reveals the true intention of Emmanuel - God is with us, right where we are, regardless of what someone else thinks about it.

Grace and Peace,



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