“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 fulfill 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.” (Matthew 1:18-25)
Rightly or wrongly I have come to consider the Gospel of Luke to have a more ‘woman centric’ Christmas story and the Gospel of Matthew to be more ‘male centric.’ In Luke one finds a significant conversation between Mary and the angel as the birth of Jesus is announced. There is the Magnificat where Mary proclaims the future and reason for this child’s birth. And, of course, there is the meeting of a pregnant Mary and a pregnant Elizabeth where the pre-born John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb as she meets “the mother of her Lord.” We focus on Mary’s story when we read the Gospel of Luke and we revel in her witness. Joseph is a non-entity here.
In Matthew, though, just the opposite is true. Matthew doesn’t talk about how Mary receives the news of her pregnancy, but he spends considerable time on Joseph’s reaction. In today’s world “dismissing Mary quietly” due to her pregnancy doesn’t sound very gallant, but one might appreciate Joseph’s unwilling to lift Mary up to public disgrace. In a patriarchal world exacting such a penalty would have been easy to do. And, standing by Mary’s side as Joseph eventually decides to do will have its consequences. Matthew’s purspecitve is clear – by the standards of his day and age Joseph is an honorable and faithful individual.
Matthew’s theme of “honorable or dishonorable” men begins with the genealogy that introduces the Gospel. When Matthew points out that Jesus was born of “David the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah” he just dissed one of the most beloved figures in Jewish history. Read the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. Each time Matthew includes a woman’s name it is meant to ask you what you think of the man associated with her story. Yes, Jesus comes from a royal line. No, that’s nothing to brag about. And oh, by the way, what do you think about the guy in office when Jesus is actually born? Three astronomers from a foreign country come to pay Jesus homage. King Herod tries to kill him. Such are the days in which we live! This is the Christmas story according to Matthew.
I write as a male pastor, a bishop, a person who metaphorically might well belong in a genealogy like Jesus’. Apparently, that is nothing to brag about. My prayer is that after I die people won’t reference me by those I abused, overlooked or betrayed. Who I want to be here is Joseph, a man who conducts his life with honor through faith in God. I see Matthew holding Joseph up as an example I might emulate. The world could use a few good men now and again.
If I were to run a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on myself in light of this story it might go as follows:
· Strengths – I am a person of privilege, voice and position. I can make decisions, good decisions, and they can make a positive impact in my world.
· Weaknesses – I am susceptible to male peer pressure and public opinion. Why put myself as risk if I don’t have to?
· Opportunities – Mary is not the only person at risk in our society who bears God’s holiness. I can do the right thing by helping others bring their gifts to birth.
· Threats – Like the wise men the powers that be will seek to co-opt me. Laws may exist, or be written, designed to favor the privileged over the marginalized. I could lose my position or privilege and so my ability to do good in the future.
I wonder if Joseph ran through such an analysis as he decided to put Mary away quietly. If so, I am glad her reconsidered in light of the angel’s counsel. I wonder if I pay enough attention to my dreams. I shouldn’t let Herod, power or privilege dictate my behavior.
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA