Matthew 1:18-19: "This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly."
Here's Joseph's dilemma: he comes from a culture of arranged marriages. When the parents negotiated the marriage it was a contract between families that was binding and not easily dissolved. To be engaged was a kind of marriage that required a certificate of divorce.
Joseph was engaged to Mary. One day Joseph's fiancé, Mary, comes to him. I'm not sure how that conversation went. How does she explain what has happened to her—the angel, the prophesy, the baby? No matter how she explained it the fact of the story is hard to sugar coat. She's pregnant and Joseph's not the father. How do you break that news? Maybe by rhyming? "Roses are red, violets are blue. I'm pregnant and the father's not you." Maybe she said, "Joseph, make a face as if the Holy Spirit overshadowed me while I slept and when I woke up I was pregnant. Good. Now get used to it." Or maybe she sent him a fruit basket. Who can be mad if they're eating chocolate covered strawberries?
However it happened it put Joseph in a dilemma. Because of God's law, to which Joseph was faithful, he could not marry her. It would have made him an adulterer. So, he saw only two options. Option one, the option that was obviously best for Joseph's reputation, demanded that Joseph give Mary a public certificate of divorce. But by saving his own reputation Mary would be destroyed. To divorce her publicly would be to subject her to public ridicule. Her future marriage prospects would be gone. She would probably be ostracized by her parents and be alone trying to raise this child on her own. That wasn't the worst though. The worst was that the law punished adultery by stoning, by death. A public divorce for Mary could very well be a death sentence.
When you look at how people respond when they are cheated on you get one constant theme. Their first and strongest desire is to 'out' the cheater. They rent billboards and put the cheaters face and info on them for all to see. They make posts on Facebook with all their evidence. The first thing they want is others to know. In this way we can uncover a deeper truth about Joseph. Joseph's heart belonged to God. I know this because Joseph did not do what many people in the world would do. Our fleshly first reaction would be revenge, to show the other as a cheater to the world. But Joseph doesn't do that.
Instead he chooses option two. That is to divorce Mary quietly. Instead of revenge Joseph shows compassion. He didn't get that compassion from the law. Laws don't have compassion. He could have only been able to give that response if his heart belonged to God.
A heart that belongs to God finds compassion when revenge is easiest. The New Testament is full of this idea that when our heart belongs to God then we deal with those who hurt us, betray us, persecute us, are our enemies with love instead of hate, with compassion instead of revenge, with blessing instead of curses.
The reality is that loving others has much to do with loving God and loving God is best shown when we show compassion to those who hurt us. Someone once said, "We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive."
Showing compassion to Mary shows Joseph's heart belongs to God. When our hearts belong to God others will know by the compassion we show.
Prayer: Father we thank you for the incredible compassion You have shown us through Jesus Christ. We seek to be people of compassion like Joseph. Help increase our faith so we may be people whose hearts belong to You. In Jesus name, amen.
[Adapted from The Christmas Experience: Part Two: Experience God's Peace. Listen to the full message here: www.arvadachristian.org/sermons]