Today we flip from Luke back to Matthew, to allow us to cover the story in broadly chronological order. Mary is now pregnant, so it’s time for Joseph to enter the picture. Like Elizabeth, Joseph is another of the great unsung heroes of the text – he is usually pictured as being a frail old man, quite without foundation. In all probability he was in his late teens or early twenties, marrying the bride arranged for him by his family, as would have been the custom.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the character of Joseph in more detail, but today, let’s ask a simple question: how does Jesus’ birth come about?
The natural answer would be to quote the passage from Luke we looked at yesterday – it was a mighty supernatural act of God. Mary conceives miraculously, confirming the divine ancestry of the Messiah. And this of course is true.
But there is also another, human answer to that question. Jesus is born because Joseph and Mary get married anyway, and Jesus has a human family to be born into. Jesus has an earthly father, too, who likewise receives a divine messenger and the revelation of the new baby’s name (and what it means for the world).
This is so often the way God works. The divine and the human weave together. Very occasionally, God does something totally down to him. But most of the time, God works through our work, our faithfulness, our prayer. ‘Pray as if everything depends on God: act as if everything depends on you.’ That’s not a bad maxim for the spiritual life – and here we see Joseph and Mary embody it perfectly.
Yes, Jesus is wonderfully and divinely conceived. But he is still born to human parents, with a real life in a real village. They make a real journey to Bethlehem, and have to agree on a very real (and hard) choice to wed anyway, despite the circumstances. And so – praise God! – we have a fully divine and fully human Saviour, born as the result of fully divine and fully human faithfulness.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about.
It’s also how most of the work of God in our own life and times comes about too. We co-operate with God’s plans – we pray for them, obey them and see God work through our faithfulness.
Where is God at work in you presently? Pray today for wisdom, courage and resolve to co-operate fully with whatever God is up to. This is how God’s marvellous work comes about.