Matthew begins his gospel with a rather formal introduction to the Christmas event.
But behind his factual reporting is a real flesh and blood drama in which Joseph is the principal character.
First he is carefully identified as having all the right Old Testament credentials to be the father of the Messiah.
Matthew then forges ahead and lays out the facts, as he understands them, of a complex and potentially explosive situation.
Mary, Godís Chosen Instrument, the Sacred Vessel, was pregnant before she got married!
Engagement in those days implied very serious legal rights and responsibilities. It was the first phase of marriage. The second phase took place a few months later when the groom received his betrothed into his home.
For a girl to get pregnant before that last step was unacceptable, but for this to have involved a man other than her betrothed was adultery and punishable by death.
Mary, like any girl, knew when she was pregnant. She also knew that this was in some mysterious way, the work of the Holy Spirit.
Had she tried to forewarn Joseph or did she put off telling him? What about her parents and close family? Her cousin, Elizabeth knew the moment she saw her and was clearly a great consolation to her.
Mary had gone to visit her... to be of service to her but Elizabeth moved by the same Holy Spirit turned the tables and took Mary into her home for a protracted period of time.
Clearly Mary was having a hard time of it and wanted to get away. Mary had agreed to Godís plan but that didnít guarantee smooth sailing. It never does!
If she had indeed tried to tell Joseph, he didnít, at first, get the message. When he did he resolved, in spite of his breaking heart, to set her free from all ties to himself. This was something the law permitted. Joseph was a law abiding Jew and given the circumstances this was the most charitable solution open to him.
His tormented state of mind was relieved by his own Angelic Annunciation. His faith in God and in Mary was solidified and his legal relationship to Jesus was affirmed.
He was therefore able to conclude his betrothal with Mary by receiving her into his home as his wife and to acknowledge the child as his own.
What a beautiful love story!