Joseph, Mary’s Husband

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, December 23, 2007

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her first-born Son. And he called His name JESUS. (Matthew 1:24,25)

Each year we joyfully return to the stories from the Word that tell of the Lord’s birth on earth, those passages which, more than any others, are able to awaken in us that very special “Christmas” feeling, that feeling of comfort and joy. Each year we are reminded of the prophecies and the miracles which prepared the way for the Lord’s birth, and we delight in thinking about His humble birth, protected and loved by two simple, gentle, God-fearing people, Mary and Joseph.

The Lord could not have come into the world to begin His Divine work of salvation and redemption without a form, a physical body to serve as a vessel to receive His inflowing Divine presence because the spiritual must flow into something natural as a vessel, especially formed to hold it. The physical body is the vessel and recipient of life in the natural world, and the spiritual body is the vessel and recipient of life in the spiritual world. There is no human life apart from the vessel which contains it. It was for this reason that the Lord formed a human body for Himself through the earthly agency of Mary.

We know from scripture that Mary was a woman set apart. Mary loved God with a Holy fear and willingly accepted the power of the Holy Spirit within her. If this were all she had done, we should still admire and respect her willingness to be led by the Lord in spite of her fears and uncertainties and even the potential danger to herself. But this was not all she did. For both Mary and Joseph, as it is for all parents, the birth of the child was only the beginning. Once the helpless child is born, it must be nurtured, fed, taught, protected and loved. A child cannot thrive unless he is raised in a home where he receives great quantities of love from both his parents. That night in Bethlehem was the beginning of a remarkable journey for Mary and Joseph.

One of the most important lessons of the Christmas story is learned when we realize that this is not simply an historical event, but that we can, by living our lives according to the laws set forth by the Lord in the Word, experience the Lord’s birth into our hearts many times, experience His birth each time that we shun an evil as a sin and the Lord implants the opposite good love into our hearts. If the Lord is to be born into our hearts, then in a sense, each of us must act as His parents, we must nurture and protect that new love that is born in our hearts as Mary and Joseph nurtured and protected the Lord for 12 years.

The marriage of a husband and wife is significative of the marriage of good and truth and also the oneness of the will and the understanding in a regenerating man or angel. Just as parents come together in marriage to produce children, so uses are created when our will and our understanding work together as one. If we can learn something about how Mary and Joseph served as the Lord’s parents in the world, perhaps we can learn something about how our own will and understanding function in the process by which the Lord regenerates us.

The Gospels say very little about Joseph. In order to learn about the part he played in these events, we cannot only study a few passages that directly speak of his part. Instead, we must study all the passages that directly or indirectly speak of his role, even those where what is not said is just as important as what is.

We know that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, for the Gospel of Matthew opens with a genealogy that begins with Abraham, traces the path through David the king and finally to Joseph, the husband of Mary. (See Mt. 1:1-16) Each of the names in the genealogy represents a state or a quality of the Divine, and the whole genealogy represents the process that the Lord went through as He prepared Himself to take on the Human form. He had to “bow the heavens” first, that is, He had to descend through the whole of the spiritual world, taking on spiritual forms as He passed through each degree of heaven, preparing Himself to be accommodated to men on earth, shielding His Glory so it would not overwhelm them. The genealogy is extremely important in the spiritual sense, for it describes in detail how the Lord descended from above the heaven to a state acceptable to men in the world. It is also important in the natural sense, for it linked Jesus Christ to the royal throne of David through His foster father, thus fulfilling the many prophesies that the Messiah would have the right to the throne and kingdom of David.

Perhaps the most important issue regarding Joseph is whether or not he was the natural father of Jesus Christ. This is an issue that must be addressed for several reasons. First, if Joseph was the father of Jesus Christ, then, since the soul is from the father, Jesus Christ could not have been God. Secondly, it must be addressed because scholars have created a sphere of doubt by pointing out certain ambiguities in the translation of several words. Therefore we need to go beyond scripture’s simple assertion that Mary was a “virgin” so that the doubts raised by some can be dispelled by the truth of the Word itself.

It’s true that the Greek word which we translate as “virgin” can also be correctly translated “young woman” and those who would deny the virgin birth assert that this is the correct translation. Further, the tradition of “espousal” or engagement as practiced at that time, according to some historians, may have allowed the couple to live together as husband and wife before the formal marriage. Again, those who would deny the virgin birth call attention to these possibilities, and so it’s important that we meet their challenge by seeing the whole doctrine in its proper context.

We note that in the opening genealogy in 41 of the 42 generations, it is said that the father “begot” the son. But, in Joseph’s case, we are told that, “…Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Mt. 1:16). The change in wording is obviously intended to call attention to the fact that Matthew clearly believes, and wants us to believe, that Joseph was not the father of Jesus and shows his belief by his careful wording.

Further, we are specifically told in Matthew that Mary found herself with child “before they came together” (Mt. 1:18). Here too, we gain additional insight into what kind of man Joseph was. When he found that Mary was with child, he wanted to divorce her.

Children were an essential part of marriage in those days, eagerly sought. If Mary and Joseph had in fact been living together as man and wife, then they would have hoped for a child and rejoiced in her pregnancy. That he wanted to divorce her shows that he knew the child simply could not be his because they had not yet come together. Instead it must prove adultery in Mary.

From Joseph’s great sorrow we learn something else about him – that he was a kind, compassionate man. He believed his beloved Mary was carrying the child of another man. The Mosaic law was quite specific and harsh. A woman caught in adultery was to be executed by stoning. But Joseph wanted to divorce her privately, to break the betrothal without punishing Mary. Considering the customs and attitude of that time and place, this can only show his kind and compassionate character, and his great love for her.

A thoughtful man, Joseph wondered about all these things that were happening to him, and while he searched for the answer to his problem, for some indication of what the right thing to do was, an angel appeared to him. The angel reassured him, telling him what he most needed to know – that Mary still loved him, and had not committed adultery. He certainly did not comprehend all the implications of what he had been told, but the angelic vision calmed his fears. His love for Mary made him eager to believe and accept the angelic message. And when he awoke, the vision over, he took Mary to be his wife, “and did not know her till she had brought forth her first-born Son” (text).

We can apply the lessons of this story to our own lives, using our knowledges of correspondences. Our will is the wife represented by Mary, and our understanding the husband represented by Joseph. The goods and truths that we try to produce during our lives are our spiritual offspring. These spiritual offspring, the goods that we do to others, appear to be our own children, as Jesus appeared to be the son of Joseph and Mary, but just as we need to see that Jehovah, not Joseph, was the father of Jesus Christ, we need to acknowledge the truth that all good is from the Lord, and therefore we really cannot do any good or truth from ourselves, but only as if of ourselves.

When we are working on a project, or formulating a plan, our will and understanding are not yet “married” but they are looking together towards a goal, and so they can be said to be “engaged.” Then, just as Joseph found Mary with the child of another, we enter states of temptation. We discover that what we are doing is not really from ourselves. We find that we are not the source of our own power but that we must depend on the Lord. If we turn to the Word in our states of temptation and humility, as Joseph listened to the angelic messenger in the midst of his temptation, we will discover the Lord as the real source of all good and truth. We will come to an understanding and inner peace with God’s order so that we can find our betrothed, and marry her, that is, so that we can bring our understanding into a marriage with our will. This cannot happen unless we acknowledge that this cannot be done apart from the Lord’s help. When this is acknowledged, then the miracle of the birth of a new love in our will takes place. If we follow the leading of the angel, that is, if read the Word with innocence and love, then this process of betrothal, marriage, and birth will be repeated throughout our lives, and the special joy of Christmas will be felt eternally.

(Mat 1:24-25) Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, {25} and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS. Amen.

First Lesson: (Mat 1:18-25)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. {19} Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. {20} But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. {21} “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” {22} So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: {23} “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” {24} Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, {25} and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

Second Lesson: AE 852:3

That when the Lord mentioned the Father He meant the Divine in Himself, and thus Himself, can be seen from many passages in the Word of both Testaments; but I will here quote a few from the Word of the Gospels, from which it can be seen that by “the Father” the Lord meant the Divine in Himself, which was in Him as the soul is in the body; and that when He mentioned the Father and Himself as two He meant Himself by both, for the soul and the body are one, the soul belonging to its body, and the body to its soul. That the Divine which is called “the Father” was the Divine Itself of the Lord from which His Human existed, and from which it was made Divine, is clearly evident from His conception from the Divine Itself. In Matthew:

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy bride, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn Son (1:20, 25).

And in Luke:

The angel said to Mary, Behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. But Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, since I know not a man? And the angel answered and said, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; therefore that Holy Thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (1:31, 32, 34, 35).

From this it is evident that the Lord from conception is Jehovah God; and to be Jehovah God from conception is to be so as to the life itself, which is called the soul from the Father, from which the body has life. From this it is clearly evident that it is the Lord’s Human that is called the Son of God, for it is said “the Holy Thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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