Saturday, December 05, 2015

In the Picture: Joseph

James Tissot 

Read: Matthew 1.18-25
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Joseph is often an unsung hero of the Christmas story. We know very little about him, but we do know that he finds himself in an almost impossible situation. The young girl to whom he is betrothed is pregnant, and he knows it is not by him. It looks obvious that she has committed adultery, or been raped (which often, entirely unfairly, brought disgrace and shame on the victim). Either way, by marrying her, he risks shaming himself and his family. Some men would have publicly denounced her, but to do so would expose her to real risk – adultery was punishable by stoning. Tissot’s picture, one of a series of paintings attempting to portray Biblical subjects in a realistic way, captures Joseph agonising over this dilemma. He doesn’t want Mary to be harmed, but what can he do?  Matthew tells us that an angel appears to him in a dream telling him that the child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Whatever he understands this to mean, the message gets through and he finds the courage to marry her and protect her and the child she bears.

  • Have you ever had to take a risk to support someone in the face of the disapproval of others?

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