The Word Became Flesh

More Buts About It

Joseph and Mary’s engagement took a reality television show turn: “‘Betrothed and pregnant! She says the baby is God’s!’ Next time on Tyra!” His soon-to-be wife being found with child would have, no doubt, caused great heartache and anxiety for Joseph. Theirs wasn’t a culture that overlooked pregnancy out of wedlock. In their day, people were stoned to death for it.

Matthew goes on to tell us that Joseph considered how he might end his relationship with Mary without causing her public shame. He uses the word but to show us that God intervened: (Joseph) had in mind to divorce her quietly. 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.

With this but, Matthew demonstrates that God’s work continued beyond conception, in preparing the family settling into which Jesus would be born. Being pledged to be married, in Joseph and Mary’s day, was the final stage of engagement known as betrothal. So binding was this betrothal period that a certificate of divorce needed to be written to break off the relationship. Discovering Mary to have been pregnant at this point would have been scandalous. We see that in Joseph’s thinking ‘How can I break this off?’ Matthew tells us of Divine intervention; God sent an angel, to bring assurance to Joseph.

The angel begins: Don’t be afraid. Sure. The woman he is engaged to turns up pregnant and it is not his child. Then an angel arrives telling him not to worry. Not exactly an ordinary occurrence. The angel assured Joseph that this was all God’s doing. Mary would have a son and they were to name the child Jesus. To the Jewish culture of the day, names were very important. Take Hose, for instance. I mean Jehoshaphat. His name meant ‘God judges.’ Another example from way back in the story of the Jewish people is found when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and in meaning from ‘father’ to ‘father of many nations.’ To a Jewish audience this passage on how Jesus got his name would have been significant. This name, Jesus, is of vital importance. Jesus literally means ‘God saves,’ and the angel declared that this child, Jesus, will save His people from their sins. The Apostle Peter left no buts about it in the Book of Acts, saying: salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. In his Gospel, the Apostle John used a big but to clarify: whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. That name is Jesus.

Matthew goes on to say that all of this happened to fulfill prophecies spoken long ago: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us. Here we are, right back to that teaching of God taking on human skin and living among us. It’s all part of the story.

Joseph took the angel’s message to heart. We’re told: Joseph took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. With this final but, Matthew reinforces the point one more time: Jesus was not an ordinary child.