A model of faithful discipleship – Saturday, 3rd week in advent – Matthew 1:18-24

Matthew’s Gospel has no Christmas story just the run up to it and the declaration of the birth of Jesus in verse 25. There are no shepherds, no manger, no long winter travel to Bethlehem but there is the narrative of the wise men. The Matthean text tells the story more from the angle of Joseph’s perspective, while the Lukan birth narrative tells the tale from the perspective of Mary. With its focus on Joseph as the chief character, Matthew’s unique story of Jesus’ birth will probably not be the model for any children’s Christmas pageant, in many of which Joseph seems to walk in the shadows as a necessary. 

Joseph is engaged to Mary, but they have not yet “come to live together.” When Mary is found to be with child, a dilemma arises for Joseph. He does not yet know that the child is “from the Holy Spirit” and believes that she has been unfaithful, bringing dishonor to both their families. According to the law, Joseph had grounds not only to dismiss Mary, but even to have her stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:13-30).

It would do well if we have some background information about early Jewish marriages in order to understand the exposition of this text. Betrothal (Hebrew kiddushin) was a marriage contract, typically arranged by the parents that took place at birth but when one reached an age of reason one got engaged. The second step (nissu’in) or an engagement was considerably later, often including a marriage feast, after which the groom took his wife to his home. Engagements in this culture was a formal contractual matter. It is for this reason that  Matthew says that Joseph had resolved to “divorce” Mary whom he was only engaged to; engagements were legally binding contracts, unlike engagements today.

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