Day 8. The Angel Appears to Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25)

Audio (9:51)

Sunday, Second Week of Advent

(Readings and prayers for lighting the Second Advent Candle are available in Appendix 1.)

Anton Raphael Mengs, 'The Dream of St. Joseph' (1773-1774), oil on canvas, 860 x 1140 cm., Kunst Historsches Museum, Wien, Austria
Anton Raphael Mengs, 'The Dream of St. Joseph' (1773-1774), oil on canvas, 860 x 1140 cm., Kunst Historsches Museum, Wien, Austria.

Read in Your Bible: Matthew 1:18-25

We're already at the Second Sunday of Advent. How time flies! Today let's examine a core Christmas passage -- the angel appearing to Joseph.

Pregnant (Matthew 1:18)

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 1:18)

Put yourself in Joseph's shoes. Your fiancée, your betrothed -- already your wife by law, though your marriage isn't consummated until after the wedding ceremony -- is a young teenager, perhaps 14 or 15. You're the village carpenter; she's a girl who has grown up in town and caught your eye. You love her, and one day you ask to marry her -- first her father and then Mary herself. She beams at your proposal!

But a few months ago, all of a sudden, something about her seems to be different. She is distracted, concerned, and then you find that she's going on a visit to her cousin Elizabeth's home several days' journey south of Nazareth in the hill country of Judea.

She's gone three months, and you can hardly wait for her to come home. But now that she's back, there is talk that she's pregnant. You lash out at the people spreading the gossip. But you can't help but wonder, especially when you yourself see that her abdomen is growing. And now you are shocked, angry, depressed. It's not your child -- you know that for sure!

A Quiet Divorce (Matthew 1:19)

"Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly." (Matthew 1:18-19)

When you are a righteous Jew, you just don't marry a girl with a tarnished reputation. It isn't right! She is not only disgraced, but the shame extends to you. You can't go ahead with the marriage, that's sure.

But you are legally married. There will have to be a divorce. Not a public shaming and self-righteous outcry. No. But a quiet divorce between the families involved, witnessed by the authorities, and it'll be over. As much as you love her, as much as you don't want to, you need to go ahead with it. Perhaps you'll find another wife sometime -- that's what he's thinking about as he falls asleep.

The Angel of the Lord (Matthew 1:20-21)

Joseph has tried to resolve a crisis in his own wisdom, the wisdom of a God-fearing, compassionate, righteous man. But he has no clue as to how God will resolve the "crisis." Indeed, the "crisis" is of God's own making.

"20  But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'" (Matthew 1:20-21)

The angel's message is clear:

  1. Don't be afraid to continue with your marriage to Mary.
  2. The baby growing in her was conceived41 by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Mary will bear a son.
  4. Name the son "Jesus."
  5. The son will save his people from their sins. More on that in a moment.

The name Jesus has great significance. It is a common Hebrew name that goes back to Joshua and beyond. The full name in Hebrew is a sentence name: 'Yahweh saves.'" Jesus' name is his mission.

Emmanuel, God with Us (Matthew 1:22-23)

The name Emmanuel is also significant. It is a two-word Hebrew phrase42 meaning "God is with us" -- so fitting to describe Jesus who is God in human flesh. Matthew points us to Isaiah 7:14.

"22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23  'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel'--
which means, 'God with us.'" (Matthew 1:22-23)

In its original context the prophecy seems to speak of a child who will be born in a threatening time when Syria and the Northern Kingdom have joined with each other to conquer the Southern Kingdom. The prophecy is that before the child is very old, God will bring peace. But as many Old Testament prophecies, there is a contemporary fulfillment as well as a future application.

Joseph Obeys the Lord (Matthew 1:24-25)

"24  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:24-25)

I'm amazed at Joseph's faith. One day he plans to quietly, compassionately divorce Mary, pregnant by another. And the next day he takes steps to bring her home as his wife, so the child will be seen to be his own and avoid the public scandal of adultery. To the townsfolk he seems to acknowledge his own sexual impropriety, unworthy of an upright Jew. And he takes on the responsibility to raise this Holy Child as his own, imperfect though Joseph will surely be as a father. All of us fathers are fallible and imperfect! He believes the angel and, through his bold and resilient faith, blesses Mary and Jesus and the whole world.

The Two Names -- Jesus and Emmanuel

This brief passage points to two names which capsulize Jesus' mission.

  1. Emmanuel, "God with us," tells us that the Kingdom of God is indeed in our midst (Luke 17:21) in the Person of Jesus, that God has become Man.
  2. Jesus, "Yahweh saves." The cost of Yahweh's salvation is unimaginable to us, but it displays the immeasurable gift of his great, self-sacrificing love.

28 Advent Scriptures, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also available in book formats: PDF, Kindle, and paperback.

We often think about the purpose of Christmas is about presents and gift-giving. No. Nor is it really about peace on earth and the absence of conflict. No. The real meaning of Christmas is found in Jesus' name. The real meaning of Christmas is that God sent his Son to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves -- save us from our sins, give us eternal life, and secure our future forever in him.

We'll pick up the Christmas narrative next Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. But this coming week we'll continue to meditate on more Messianic prophecies.


Father, thank you for Joseph's bold faith. I can't imagine the bind he is in and his courage in following your lead. When I face crises, please help me to trust you, be obedient, and do what you direct, even though those around me cannot understand. Give me faith. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Discussion Question

Q8. (Matthew 1:18-25) What do these verses tell us about Joseph's character? His faith? When he takes Mary home to be his wife, how does this affect his reputation in Nazareth as an upright Jew?


References and Abbreviations

[41] "Conceived" is the Aorist passive participle of gennaō, "become the parent of, beget by procreation." Here passive, "be fathered" (See Galatian 4:23, 29), "conceived" (BDAG 193, 1a).

[42] ʿImmānû ʿēl.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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