December 19, 2004
18 This is how Jesus Christ was born. Mary his mother had been given to Joseph in marriage but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
19 Then Joseph, her husband, made plans to divorce her in all secrecy. He was an upright man, and in no way did he want to discredit her.
20 While he was pondering over this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has conceived by the Holy Spirit, 21 and now she will bear a son. You shall call him ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this happened in order to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Emmanuel which means: God-with-us. 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do and he took his wife to his home. 25 So she gave birth to a son and he had not had marital relations with her. Joseph gave him the name of Jesus.
• 18. The wording of verse 16 should be noted. Jesus is not the son of Joseph. The beginning of the paragraph intends to remind us that Jesus is both a legitimate son of David through Joseph and the Son of God conceived through the Holy Spirit by a virgin-mother.
These short and almost bashful sentences do not dare to unveil the mystery of Mary, the virgin through whom life on earth touches God and offers itself as an oblation. A messenger breaks through the night and speaks with silent words: the world is open to the active presence of God.
Mary was engaged. Engagements gave to the Jewish people practically every right of marriage, especially conjugal rights. The only difference was that women continued to live under the parents’ tutelage and in their parental home. The Jews were markedly a “macho” society. A woman necessarily belonged to a man, either to her father, her husband, or her son. Mary was already the wife of Joseph, but she could not be under his authority until he brought her to his home (vv. 20 and 24).
With reference to the virginity of Mary, see Luke 1:26.
The virginity of Mary was not in keeping with the Jewish mentality that gave first place to fecundity. It was not so unusual that Joseph would accept such a situation. At this time certain Jews belonging to the party of the Essenes lived celibacy, as did the monks.
Joseph made plans to divorce her secretly. The Gospel is not precise as to his reasons for so doing. In any case it is unthinkable that people might have doubted Mary’s fidelity.
The intervention of the angel in the Gospel is not to reassure Joseph but to inform him of his role in the plan of God: You shall call him ‘Jesus’, and you will receive him as your son.” Joseph was a “descendant of David” and Jesus adopted by Joseph would be a legitimate descendant of David. Most probably Mary did not even belong to the tribe of Judah, which was that of David, but like her cousin Elizabeth, she belonged to a family of priests of the tribe of Levi.
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1. The issue of adoption is always tricky. It confronts the fears we have internally about our own worth if we are not able to conceive or carry to term. It confronts the fears of we have externally as we force difference into family and community systems that may not be ready for them. I don’t think Joseph had adoption in mind when he thought of Mary.
You may want to check out the song “Happy Adoption Day.” It takes some work to get to this perspective.
2. The fear issue also comes in the guise of secrecy. Joseph had his mind made up. He was going to get out of this scene real quick and as easily for all as possible. In some sense fear came with the visit of an angel. Now he would have to decide whether or not to wake up and live differently than his automatic tapes.
3. This is a story of one birth where the interest comes more in the prelude to birth than the birth itself so matter-of-factly described as, “so she gave birth”. How would you tell the story of your own birth or re-birth. What was the travail and turning point and clarification of the revelation of GOD known as “me”? Would you also put more emphasis upon the angst of the story?
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