You can only imagine what Joseph’s family thought. You can only imagine what the townsfolk thought. You can only imagine what the religious leaders thought. You can only imagine the laughter and the mocking, the rumors and the gossip, the scolding and the censure. And maybe we should imagine it.
“Does he really expect us to believe that he wasn’t the one who got Mary pregnant?” “I’ve heard lots of excuses in my time, but never ‘I was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.’” “I heard that it wasn’t her first time, either.” “I heard she got attacked when she was out drawing water.”
The fact is, those people would be no more likely to believe her explanation than we would be if someone fed it to us today. And those people would have been no less eager to propose some more likely explanations. Those people weren’t so different from us, though they may have lived at a very different time and in a very different context.
We can hardly blame Joseph for wanting to walk away—to walk away from the mocking, from the gossip, from the shame. We can hardly blame him for resolving to divorce her. We can hardly blame him for wanting to extricate himself from betrothal to a woman who was clearly no virgin. He, after all, was a just man and an innocent one. So at least he planned to do it quietly.
It took nothing less than divine intervention to get him to stay. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’” (Matthew 1:20). When Joseph awoke he remembered the dream, he accepted it as God’s own revelation, and he received it as God’s own instruction. He set aside all thought of divorce, he took Mary as his wife, and he raised her son as his own.
Imagine Mary’s joy, Mary’s relief, Mary’s sense of comfort and well-being when Joseph told her he loved her, he believed her, and he accepted her. Imagine Mary’s gratitude when Joseph stood beside her and said “My wife,” when he took that baby in his arms and said, “My son.” Imagine how his obedience impacted Mary, how his faith blessed his wife, how his love made all the difference.
We can be certain the gossip did not end the day Joseph declared, “I believe her.” We can be certain people were no more convinced by his dream than her visitation. The gossip did not turn to acceptance simply because he added his testimony to hers. Rather, I suspect it increased all the more. “I can’t believe he’s so naive.” “I guess he can’t come up with a better explanation than a dream.” “If this isn’t proof that he’s the one who got her pregnant I don’t know what is!”
But Joseph was a man of faith, a man who chose to believe God’s word and obey God’s direction, a man whose decision to accept Mary was also a decision to share her shame. But he knew that God had spoken, he knew what God had spoken, and nothing would dissuade him, nothing would compel him to reject what God had made abundantly clear.
And as I listened to this familiar passage during my morning devotions, a passage I’ve heard hundreds or even thousands of times, I found myself praying, “God, thank you for Joseph. And please give me the faith of Joseph. Give me the faith to listen attentively to your Word, give me the faith to believe it even when it cuts hard against my presuppositions, give me the faith to apply it even when it’s especially difficult. Let me be like Joseph. Give me a faith like his.”