The woman you are about to marry suddenly turns up pregnant, and you know you didn’t do it. What are you going to do? Stand there and smile and say, ‘It’s okay. I’ll just take the child as mine’? Not likely, eh? Maybe you’d give her the silent treatment? Pack up your things and leave her there? Turn her over to the authorities so she can be punished as an adulteress (stoned by an angry crowd like almost happened in John 8)? Or maybe kill her yourself? Word’s going to get out about this, and it won’t be good on either of you. And what about the shmo who made her pregnant? Wouldn’t bloody revenge be in order? And maybe your prayers would have a different tone when prayed to a God that would let such dreadful things happen to you!
The test of one’s character is when one faces the life-and-death decisions. Joseph had to face this. But his character quickly started coming through. No legal or violent punishment for a woman he still cared much about. No mad search-and-destroy mission to shred the other man. Just quietly call the relationship the failure it seemed to be, and send her away to some place where the executioners would not go, someplace strange enough that just being there would remind her of what she had done.
Joseph’s response changed when the facts came in, thanks to an messenger angel. But even his reaction to the angel took some character. He could’ve been mad at God, and said, ‘If it’s not my kid, I’m not raising him! And keep your hands off this woman!’ (He wouldn’t have been the first Jew to have a fight with supernatural beings.) Or, he could’ve explained away his dream as the result of having too much wine that night. Instead, Joseph gave a yes. Not as momentous a yes as Mary gave, to be sure. But a difficult and important yes to make. For his yes meant that the son of the heavenly Father would have an earthly father like other humans do. And a just man for a father, a man who would raise that son with the depth of character and caring that he showed in this moment. As with Mary’s yes, Joseph’s yes pleased God and serves as an example for us.
Father, you gave your Son a good human family to grow up in, with a father, a mother, and siblings. Help us remember those of us who do not have parents; help us be family toward them as best we can. Amen.
A challenge, for all you fathers reading this : how are you providing an example of character to your children? Be specific; list them out. And if you can’t come up with anything, or if the list is short and weak, then set out for yourself the task of becoming an example of one aspect of character for your children. (You can work on other aspects later. Work on just one for now.)