The Co-opted Father
by Ken Onstot
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
Narrator: In Luke’s Christmas story, the focus of attention is on Mary. Joseph is almost completely ignored. But in Matthew’s gospel the angel’s message comes not to Mary, but to Joseph, and it is up to Joseph to respond. How might he have reacted? Let’s find out.
Angel: Joseph. JOSEPH! WAKE UP!
Joseph (sleepy and grouchy): Go away. Don’t bother me. I don’t want to wake up.
Angel: Don’t you brush me off, Joseph son of David. I’m talking to you. You hear me? I’ve been sent to you from God.
Joseph (coming awake): What? Who are you? Look, I don’t appreciate getting wakened up. I don’t get much sleep these days.
Angel: Yeah, I know. I’ve watched.
Joseph: You have watched? Who you are?
Angel: I’m an angel. I’ve been sent to you from God with a message.
Joseph: Well I hope it has some answers, because I’ve got a mess on my hands.
Angel: Yeah, I know. You’ve got a big problem with Mary.
Joseph: How do you know about that?
Angel: I told you: I’m an angel. We make it our business to know stuff.
Joseph: Okay, so what am I supposed to do? I fall in love with this girl. But do I shack up with her, like other guys? No. I offer to marry her. I even ask her parents. We get engaged. We set the date. But do I touch her? No. We agree not to have sex until after we are married. Now this! She gets pregnant with someone else! Is that how God rewards people for trying to do the right thing?
Angel: In your case, yes.
Angel: A guy like you who wants to do the right thing—you’re just the kind of guy we need for this situation.
Joseph: Great. So what am I supposed to do?
Angel: What does the Bible tell you to do?
Joseph: It so happens I looked it up: Deuteronomy chapter 22. It says, “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.” Is that what I am supposed to do? Turn Mary in so she and her lover can be executed?
Angel: Is that what you think God wants you to do?
Joseph: I don’t know. I have always tried to obey God’s law. But this? I can’t do this. I love Mary. I know we can’t be together, not after this, but I could never hurt her.
Angel: Yeah, I know. That’s why we picked you.
Joseph: Picked me? What are you talking about?
Angel: That’s what I am trying to tell you, Joseph. You have been chosen by God for a mission.
Joseph: What mission?
Angel: A mission to care for Mary and her child.
Joseph: But it is not my child! Wouldn’t it be better if I quietly broke our engagement and let her marry this other guy? Maybe if they did it right away, no one would know.
Angel: And who do you think is the other guy?
Joseph: I don’t know.
Angel: Are you sure there is another guy?
Joseph: How else did she get pregnant?
Angel: Joseph, Joseph, Mary hasn’t been shacking up with some other guy. The child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Joseph: Mary’s been having sex with the Holy Spirit?
Angel: Oh for heaven’s sake. Are you crazy? You don’t have sex with the Holy Spirit. That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.
Joseph: So how did she get pregnant?
Angel: Don’t you ever read the Bible? Who was there when God created the world? What hovered over the water when God said, “Let there be light”?
Joseph: Well, the Bible says that the ruach of God hovered over the water at creation. Ruach means wind … or …. Spirit.
Angel: Ah, very good. The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, was God’s agent at the creation of the world. Well now the Holy Spirit is God’s agent at the beginning of a new creation. Don’t you get it? Mary’s child is not your child or someone else’s child. He’s God’s child. He is a work of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. He is the beginning of a new creation, a new work of God to save a world that has been damaged by sin.
Joseph (pausing): Well, if he’s God’s child, why do you need me?
Angel: Because you are a descendant of Abraham and David. God promised to bring blessing to the world through the descendants of Abraham. And through the descendants of David, God promised to give us a righteous king who would bring God’s peace to the world. You, Joseph, are a descendant of Abraham and David. Your son will be the one to fulfill those promises.
Joseph: But he’s not my son! How can he be my descendant if I am not his father?
Angel: Because you are going to claim him when you take Mary to be your wife. When you take Mary into your home, the child born of her will become your legal heir. Through you he will become the inheritor of God’s promises to Abraham and David.
Joseph (thinking this through): So I am supposed to be the custodial parent for a child I did not father, so that God can use this child to fulfill promises made to Abraham and David? Is that it?
Angel: Pretty much. By the way, you shall name him Jesus.
Joseph: You mean I don’t even get to pick his name?
Angel: No. This is God’s child, remember. And his name is important. It means “the Lord saves.” He is the fulfillment of a promise given long ago to the prophet Isaiah: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’”
Joseph: I thought you said his name was Jesus.
Angel: Oh for heaven’s sake. The name Emmanuel is symbolic. It means that God will be present in this child. But you will name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.
Joseph: Save us from our sins? I thought the Messiah was going to save us from our enemies.
Angel: First, you need someone to save you from yourself. You may think you are a righteous man, Joseph, but you suffer from the same pride, the same self-centeredness, the same alienation from God as everyone else. This child comes for you as much as for anybody.
Joseph: So why don’t you choose someone else? There are plenty of descendants of Abraham and David. Why pick me?
Angel: Actually, that is a good question. You know, most of the descendants of Abraham and David were losers, like Abraham’s grandson Jacob. Jacob tricked his own blind father to steal an inheritance from his brother. And still God blessed him. Then we come to King David. David had an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers and got her pregnant. Then to cover it up he arranged to have the soldier killed in battle so he could marry his wife. Talk about sexual misconduct. And he was one of the better kings! Most of his descendants were hopelessly corrupt. They cared less about God and more about holding on to power. There is no biological descendant of Abraham or David who could possibly be the Savior of the world.
Joseph: So the true Messiah has to be a descendant without really being a descendant?
Angel: Ah, you are catching on. The Savior of the world cannot be just another descendant of David, like the others. None of them came even close to establishing God’s kingdom in this world. The true Messiah must be a new work of God—a new creation—someone born … of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph: And yet, in order to fulfill God’s promises he must also be a descendant of Abraham and David.
Angel: Yep, and that’s where you come in. You represent Jesus’ continuity with the Old Testament. In you Jesus is connected to the story of Israel—the people through whom God wanted to bring blessing to the world. But the people of Israel never succeeded at that mission. So God needed a new approach. God needed a new creation of the Holy Spirit. That is what Mary’s child represents.
Joseph: So I couldn’t be the child’s father, because I am just as messed up as everyone else?
Angel: That’s one way to put it. But don’t be too hard on yourself. God chose you, remember? God chose you because if the Holy Spirit can work a miracle in Mary, the Holy Spirit can also work a miracle in you.
Joseph: Yeah, well that raises another question: What if Mary doesn’t want to marry me? I mean, if she’s got this thing going with the Holy Spirit, what will she want with me?
Angel: The same thing she has always wanted: a life with you, a life of faithfulness and compassion. Look, Joseph, Mary is as confused as you are, but she still wants to marry you. Ask her, and she will accept. But you must not touch her until after Jesus is born. There must be no doubt in anyone’s mind to whom this child belongs.
Joseph: So I am supposed to be Mary’s husband, but I am never allowed to have sex with her?
Angel: I didn’t say that. I said not until after Jesus is born. Jesus belongs to God, but you and Mary—you two belong to each other. And to raise this child you will need each other … more than you realize.
Narrator: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took Mary as his wife, but he had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.”