The Bible recounts:
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”Matthew 1:20-21
In my opinion, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. Very little is said about him, but he was a righteous man.
Joseph, Mary, and betrothal
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was “betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph” (1:27). This arrangement was a little different than the engagements of today’s norms. According to rabbinical writings, there were two stages in a Hebrew marriage. The first, known as the betrothal period, was as legally binding as marriage.
If at any time during this phase of marriage either person violated their vows, a formal divorce was required to nullify the marriage. Mary and Joseph were legally married, and during the approximate twelve-month period of their betrothal, they had no physical relationship (neither did they afterward) and lived in separate houses. The second stage was the wedding ceremony, a celebration that lasted for seven days.
He wanted God’s will
It was in the first stage of their marriage that Mary became pregnant with the Son of God. Joseph could have divorced her because of this—even the suspicion. When Mary was pregnant, he at first resolved to divorce her in a quiet manner. This may sound harsh, but the law of the time called for much worse.
It called for stoning, but by intending to go the other route he was showing a great mercy. His heart must have been broken, but he didn’t want to make a spectacle out of Mary. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20).
Joseph knew that he would be thought of as the husband of the woman who had broken her vow. And indeed Mary went through life with that reputation. The Pharisees once said to Jesus, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God” (John 8:41).
In other words, they were saying, “You were conceived out of wedlock, Jesus.” Joseph was willing to endure all of that. He loved Mary. He obeyed God. And both of them agreed to God’s plan.
St. Joseph was a good earthly example, and he continues to be a good example for us. Though he does not say one word in scripture we can learn much from his life. How to love, work, and how to sacrifice. I encourage you to remember this as we finish the Advent season and transition into Christmas.