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Matthew 1:18-25

The Pledge – vs. 18 (Establishing a covenant)
In our contemporary society, the institution of marriage is seen as a social contract. However, this was not the case in ancient Judaism. Marriage was a binding union that carried social, economic, and depending on social status political ramifications. Thus, great care and consideration was given when it came to selecting a prospective bride and groom. In fact, so much so, that in most cases the selecting was usually never done by the actual marriage participants themselves. Within the context of a Jewish marriage, several preliminary steps were taken. These steps are in stark contrasting to today’s meet someone, date them and then get married approach.

The first major step in a Jewish marriage was betrothal (engagement).
1. Betrothal established the marriage covenant.
2. The prospective bridegroom or his agent would travel from his father's house to the home of the prospective bride. There he would negotiate with the father of the young woman to determine the price (mohar) that he must pay to purchase his bride.
3. Once the bridegroom paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was established, and the young man and woman were regarded to be husband and wife.
4. From that moment the bride was declared to be consecrated or sanctified, set apart exclusively for her bridegroom.
5. As a symbol of the covenant relationship, the groom and bride would drink from a cup of wine over which a betrothal benediction was pronounced.
6.After the marriage covenant, the groom would leave the home of the bride and return to his father's house. There he would remain separate from his bride for a period of up to twelve months.
7. This period of separation afforded the bride time to prepare for married life.
8. The groom occupied himself with the preparation of living accommodations in his father's house where he would bring his bride.
At the end of the period of separation, the groom would come to take his bride to live with him.

Mary was found to be with child – vs. 19 (A broken promise)
When we view Mary’s pregnancy in the context of marriage practices of antiquity, we see that Mary’s pregnancy represents a broken promise. Here was a young woman who according to Jewish tradition had covenanted to set herself apart exclusively for her bridegroom. Here was a young woman who made a promise to keep herself pure and untouched and remain that way until such time as hers husband returned for her. I suspect that Joseph was devastated by the news. Honestly, I have no idea how Joseph must have felt. I do believe that we all can agree that a broken promise is painful. No words can describe the hurt, the pain that accompanies the violation of trust or the inability of someone you love and trust to keep their word. It feels as though something inside of us has been broken and shattered and we are left to pick up the pieces.

The text points out that the child that was in Mary was of the Holy Spirit. I believe this is significant, because although Joseph was not initially aware of this, it does point to the fact that behind every broken promise is a reason. Many times people do things that are incomprehensible and beyond the scope of our powers of reason, but if we are able to step outside of our own pain, we will come to the realization that what we consider an excuse is a reason to others. The irrationality of others does not justify their actions, but it can help us to gain perspective and insight into their behavior. Someone once said, “it is better to understand, than to be understood.” 

He had considered this – vs. 20 (The response)
The mysteries surrounding Mary’s pregnancy have proved to be quite puzzling over time. Joseph’s response to this revelation can best be termed as “out of the norm.” Again, Mary’s pregnancy regardless of how it happened represented a violation of a binding legal agreement. Joseph would have been well within his rights to have Mary stoned to death. To be honest, the general human response to hurt is to hurt back. Hurt people, hurt people.  When people feel as though others have wronged them, the immediate reaction is to make them feel the pain we feel.

Joseph probably considered this, but from scripture, we can gather that he pondered many other things as well. Joseph did not have a knee jerk reaction to pain. How many times have we acted in haste only to repent later? Taking a page from Joseph, we see that a knee jerk reaction is not the best response to pain. When we have been hurt or perceive that someone has done something to cause us pain it would be prudent to take time to think things through. Consider all available alternatives and options, and listen to what God would have us do. This is not about being a super Christian, but these are exercises in practical Christian living. It is presumptuous to think that we will never experience pain or hurt, no matter how close we draw to Christ, but we can learn how to deal with the pain we experience on this journey called life.

Listening to Joseph – When we listen to Joseph, he teaches us about:

Integrity (vs. 19) – He did not want to expose her to public disgrace
Integrity, simply means doing what is right in spite of how we feel or how we perceive others have treated us. It is interesting that among the things, that Joseph considered was Mary and how his actions would affect her and the rest of her life. Joseph considered that even though he was without a doubt wounded by Mary’s apparent lack of self-control, ruining her reputation was not right either.
Scientists now say that a series of slits, not a giant gash, sank the Titanic. The opulent, 900-foot cruise ship sank in 1912 on its first voyage, from England to New York. Fifteen hundred people died in the worst maritime disaster of the time. The most widely held theory was that the ship hit an iceberg, which opened a huge gash in the side of the liner. However, an international team of divers and scientists recently used sound waves to probe the wreckage, buried in the mud under two-and-a-half miles of water. What did they discover? The damage was surprisingly small. Instead of the huge gash, they found six relatively narrow slits across the six watertight holds. Small damage, invisible to most, can sink not only a great ship but also a great reputation.

Obedience (vs. 24) – He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him
The bible says that Joseph was a righteous man. Part of righteousness is obedience doing what God says, when God says. God (whom I believe has a tremendous sense of humor) has a way of calling on us to do things that we really do not want to do, are afraid to do, or would never consider doing. But I am reminded of David’s words, “obedience is better than sacrifice.

When we think obedience in the scheme of God’s economy, it is clear that obedience to God is more for us than it is for God. Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. Therefore, he says to you and the other trusted employees, "Look, I'm going to leave. While I am gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I am away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip." Everyone agrees. 
He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time, he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally, he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess--weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation, he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, "What happened? Didn't you get my letters?"
You say, "Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We have even bound them in a book, and some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have 'letter study' every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters." I think the president would then ask, "But what did you do about my instructions?" No doubt, the employees would respond, "Do, well, nothing. But we read every one!"
When we look at our life, how much better off would be if we followed God’s word instead of just reading God’s word? God has given us all of the instructions we need to live in harmony with each other and our world, to live a life that is fulfilling  (not get everything we think we want, but be OK when we cannot get those things we desire) and to achieve victory over the things that plague us. James, says, “do not be just hearers of the word, but be doers.”

Honor (vs. 25) – He had no union with her until she gave birth
They say that the measure of a man is not determined by what he says, but by what he does. Joseph’s willingness to refrain from having relations with Mary until after she had conceived demonstrates not only self-control, but also that Joseph was a man of honor. In spite of his fleshly desires, Joseph honored what God had created inside of Mary and what Mary represented, a human vessel set apart by God for the purposes of God. To Joseph, Mary was not an object, nor was she some thing to be used at whim. Rather, Joseph viewed Mary as a blessing from God and he was blessed by God to fulfill such and important role as being involved in the earthly parenting of our Lord and Savior.

Once there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware distressingly, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. Now he lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live, and his son's wife did not like the arrangement.
"I can't have this," she said. "It interferes with my right to happiness." Therefore, she and her husband took the old man gently but firmly by the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner, blinking at the table with wistful eyes.
One day his hands trembled rather more than usual, and the earthenware bowl fell and broke.
"If you are a pig," said the daughter-in-law, "you must eat out of a trough." They made him a little wooden trough and he got his meals in that.
These people had a four-year-old son of whom they were very fond. One evening the young man noticed his boy playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing.
"I'm making a trough," he said, smiling up for approval, "to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big."
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and did not say anything. Then they cried a little. They then went to the corner, took the old man by the arm, and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on, nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.
Before we can honor others, we must first see the value in them. As we see value in others, it becomes easier to respect and avoid using them or treating people like objects.

There are four passages in scripture that refer to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, two in Matthew and two in Luke. In fact, throughout scripture there is not a single word recorded that Joseph ever spoke. However, his actions speak loud and clear to us about the need for strong character in the face of public humiliation and disgrace, as well as how to show love and kindness to those whom we perceive to be the source of our pain. Joseph points us to Christ. When we are able to see the Christ in others or at the very least the potential of Christ in them, it really does not matter what they have done to us, because the word is able to help us overcome our pain.