Getting to know Joseph and Mary

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December 13, 1998


(Use an object lesson of our Nativity Scene from home – pull figures out of a box one at a time while talking)

One of my favorite parts of Christmas preparation is putting up the Nativity set. Each year, like many people, you may pull yours out of storage, dust it off and set it somewhere in your home.

A. The decorative Nativity Scene has become one of the staples of Christmas. No scene would be complete without the three figures at the center.

Obviously, Jesus Christ is front and center, in a manger. But two other indispensable figures are those of Mary and Joseph.

B. As we look at a Nativity scene, it’s hard to ignore that he Christmas story is wrapped around people – around real life men and women we think we know, but who have never taken on much of a life of their own.

How well do we really know Joseph and Mary?

C. AIM: Our aim today is to get to know Mary and Joseph more personally so that we can see Christmas from their point of view.


A. When Mary was born, the golden age of Israel’s proud history was past. No king of David’s family had ruled in Jerusalem for over 500 years.

But the Jews were still waiting for the Messiah, the ruler promised throughout the pages of the Scriptures, promised through the prophets. The one from David’s family who would sit on David’s throne and rule forever.

B. The evidence about Mary points to a humble, godly Jewish upbringing. Mary’s father, apparently, was a descendant of the great King David through David’s son, Nathan.

Mary’s first impressions as a child probably centered on devotion to God and to God’s Word.

C. Mary was from the town of Nazareth. First century Nazareth was famous for only one thing – its sin.

It was located just four miles from the Roman garrison at Sepphoris. When the boys in the army got a few days leave and some bonus pay, they went to Nazareth where they could find cheap wine and a red-light district where women would be waiting for them.

In Nazareth Gabriel speaks to a young woman.

READ LUKE 1:26-38

D. When Mary first appears in the Scriptures, she is in the presence of an angel. She was already engaged. Most marriage agreements were made when the children were fairly young. In all likelihood when Gabriel spoke to her, Mary is probably only 13 or 14 years old, still living with her parents.

Some are under the impression that God chose Mary because of something righteous in her. Gabriel makes it clear that she was chosen by God as an act of grace. He says to her, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (v. 28), and that word “favored” means to receive grace.

As Mary listened to the angel she must have wrestled with the consequences that would come in her life if she accepted God’s call. How am I going to explain this to my family? What will Joseph say? What about the townspeople? What will they think of me? Am I headed for a life of being a single parent? Mary would probably live her whole life under a cloud of suspicion from her family and neighbors.

E. As she listens to the angel, Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

Within Mary’s decision to be fully submissive to the call of God was her willingness, if need be, to suffer ridicule and contempt and loneliness. God certainly didn’t force this choice on Mary; she willingly embraced what God had for her. But the decision was made with no assurance that anyone except God would ever fully understand.

Luke 1:39 says that Mary then made a trip to visit her relative, Elizabeth who was pregnant with a son that would be known as John the Baptist.

Maybe this is what she was thinking as she went…

Sanctuary goes black
Then immediately to light setting #4
(Ellen sings – “Breath of Heaven/Mary’s Song”)
Bring lights back to setting #3


Mary had no guarantee that her beloved Joseph would understand or even believe her story of miraculous conception.
She now had to face the man she loved and tell him that she was pregnant – and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father.

A. The Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph was a righteous man. Like Mary he would have been a careful observer of the Law of Moses.

B. The Bible says that he worked for his living as a carpenter. In those days the job of a carpenter was to plan and build homes, manufacture household furniture and construct farming tools. Joseph was not a wealthy man, but he should not be thought of as illiterate or untaught.

C. If Joseph resembled the pious, hard-working class of his Jewish colleagues, he would not consider marriage until he was at least 25 years old.

It probably happened like this: One day, Joseph asked his parents if he could marry that sweet village girl, Mary. They discussed it amongst themselves considering Mary’s parentage, ancestry and resources (which wasn’t a prime consideration since everyone in Nazareth was poor). They could hardly fault Mary’s background, because it was the same as their own – both families were distant descendants of the royal family of Israel, proudly being able to trace their family trees back to King David. They probably approved of Joseph’s choice with enthusiasm.

Then Joseph’s father paid a visit to Mary’s parents, who were surprised, but also remembering Mary’s random comments about the young carpenter Joseph figured there was some interest. The two fathers did most of the negotiating. In biblical times marriage was considered a covenant between two families, not just the bridal pair, so there were many matters to discuss.

Finally the fathers agreed to a marriage contract between their children. Joseph was brought before Mary, and their parents uttered a formal benediction over them as they tasted a cup of wine together. This, the legal betrothal, was far more binding than the modern engagement. Only divorce could break it apart. And even though they were not yet married, had either Joseph or Mary been unfaithful to each other, it would have been deemed an adultery punishable by death. Had Joseph died in the meantime, Mary would have been his legal widow.

Both Joseph and Mary would still live with their own parents, and virginity was to be maintained until the wedding itself, at which time the two would move into their own house.

When Joseph of Nazareth makes his first appearance in the biblical story we learn that he wants a divorce. His engagement to Mary has already lasted a number of months, but now new information has come to light – information that crushes Joseph’s heart and drives him to desperate extremes.

Maybe this is how the scene unfolded. Shortly after Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth, she sat down with Joseph in the garden of her parents’ home. She told him, “I’m pregnant.” But she told him this, not with tears of shame but with quiet confidence. At first Joseph couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He actually entertained the idea that Mary might be joking, but he knew she’d never joke about something this serious. What she said was true. She was pregnant.

Joseph’s first question was the same question any man would ask in the same situation: “Who’s the father?” Joseph’s conscience was clear. He knew the baby wasn’t his. He had never violated the purity of the engagement period. Even if he had wanted to, how could he? His relationship with Mary had been carried out in full view of the close-knit community surrounding them. But apparently Mary was not the person Joseph thought she was.
“What was going on when she went to visit Elizabeth?” he wonders. “Did she even go see Elizabeth when she was gone?” “Who is this other man?”

Mary told him that an angel had appeared to her who said that she would conceive miraculously. Her son would be the promised deliverer, the Messiah, God’s Son. She said it so calmly and confidently. But how could Joseph believe a story like that? Without saying another word he got up and went home to cry.

What would he do?

He narrowed it down to three options:
1. Marry her quickly even though the baby wasn’t his
2. Publicly divorce Mary as an adultress, in which case she would be stoned to death
3. Have the marriage contract set aside quietly, while Mary went off to have her baby elsewhere

As he turned these options over in his mind, one fact emerged with such power that it overshadowed all of his pain and sense of betrayal. Joseph realized that he loved Mary more than any person he had ever known. Even though he could no longer trust her, he wouldn’t have her judged publicly. He would divorce her privately, and do it in the morning. With that decision made, he fell into an exhausted sleep.

But in a dream, God opened up to Joseph an option that he had never considered.


Because of a census, Joseph and Mary have to travel to Bethlehem. Mary gives birth in Bethlehem, and there’s Joseph. Right beside her.
It’s interesting that not one direct word from the mouth of Joseph is recorded in the Bible. Most of the people surrounding Jesus’ birth talked or sang or shouted in praise. But not Joseph.

As he held this tiny infant, what kinds of thoughts were going through his mind?

Sanctuary goes black
Then immediately to light setting #4
(Kirby sings – “Joseph’s Song”)
Bring lights back to setting #3


A. The whole story involving these two people is a story of trust.

1. Mary had to trust God’s promise.
2. Joseph had to trust Mary.
3. Mary had to trust Joseph.
4. Joseph had to trust God.

B. Both Mary and Joseph had to say to God, “I am your servant. Whatever it costs, wherever it takes me, I will do it.”

C. God continues to look for women and men like Mary and Joseph.

People who will pursue obedience, whatever the cost.
People who will trust God – even though the outcome seems unsure.

God raises up people for his purposes.
And God is looking for people humble enough to give him all the glory.

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