Did you know that many towns are named after Joseph? One famous example is San Jose, California, given its name by colonists from Spain. Throughout Christian history many have appreciated Joseph: carpenter, husband of Mary, and legal father of Jesus.
Our reading for today gives us an inside view of Joseph’s conversation with an angel. The heavenly visitor declared that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. He is also told that she is pregnant, not with an ordinary child, but one “conceived” by the Holy Spirit (v. 20).
Joseph and Mary were betrothed at the time, a tradition much more binding than engagement in modern society. When a couple was betrothed, it was considered a legal agreement. Betrothal lasted about 12 months, during which time preparations for a wedding and the couple’s new home would take place.
During this time of betrothal Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. Since the couple had not been intimate (v. 18), Joseph had a difficult decision to make. Should he disgrace Mary—which might lead to her death—or “divorce her quietly” (v. 19). As he was considering these options, an angel appeared to him. Joseph, heeding the angel’s advice, took Mary as a wife (v. 25).
Little else is known about Joseph following the Nativity story. We do know that he had a second dream that caused the young family to flee for Egypt (2:13). We also learn he was still alive when Jesus was around 12 years old, as told in Luke 2:41–42.
Some Bible scholars assume Joseph died sometime following that event, as he is not mentioned for the rest of Jesus’ life. From what Scripture has revealed about this man, though, it is clear that Joseph’s life was marked by obedience to God, even in difficult circumstances.