One of the encouraging things I love about the Bible is that it allows us to express our feelings. What is more, God understands us and works with us and through us for his greater purposes.

Matthew 1:20 records Joseph’s reaction to the news that Mary was pregnant with a word that is usually translated, ‘pondered’ or ‘considered’. However, as Kenneth Bailey in his Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP: Academic, 2008, p.44f) comments, another meaning of the original verb is ‘became angry’ or ‘upset’. This alternative helps us understand how Joseph who is spoken of as ‘being a just man’, would have felt – disappointed and betrayed, even angry.

Joseph had a problem: Mary was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father. Apart from the shame of an illegitimate baby, could he trust her? Significantly, it was at this point an angel spoke to him in a dream: “Joseph, Son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 1:20). God was sensitive to Joseph’s feelings.


We can only begin to appreciate how Joseph must have felt. For a young woman to conceive a baby without sexual intercourse at the time of the first century Roman Empire was much more than the skills specialists in gynecology offer today. Joseph was being told by the angel that God was doing the unthinkable – taking on human form. Heaven was coming to earth

Joseph could have continued with his plan, quietly to divorce Mary. It says a great deal about his faith and character that he took her home as his wife. How did he come to believe something so completely out of the ordinary?   

He may have believed Mary’s news because it was so extraordinary. But, because he knew the Scriptures, there were other reasons too. He knew that God from time to time involved himself, even interfered, in human affairs for the good of his people. So it was now not out of the realm of possibility that God who had created men and women in his image, could take on human form.

And there is something else we usually overlook. We can appreciate that Joseph who is described as ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ (1:19) would have divorced Mary as the law of Moses prescribed. What is striking however, is that he intended to do this ‘privately’ rather than publicly shame her.

Kenneth Bailey (p.44) suggests that Joseph was willing to do this because of his understanding of the God of the Bible. God is patient and longsuffering and, above all, compassionate (as we see for example in Isaiah 42:1-9. Despite his first response of disappointment, even anger, Joseph did not want to bring down the full force of the law on Mary but rather treat her with compassion because she was ‘weak and exhausted’.


What Joseph knew of God from the Bible together with the unexpected and extraordinary nature of the angel’s announcement – an experience he could not deny – convinced him that, strange though it seemed, Mary’s baby was God taking on human form and coming to earth.

G.K. Chesterton once observed: Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.

The angel’s words are unexpected and extra-ordinary. They speak of a God who was willing to come out of the silence of the universe and become one of us. He understands our emotions and works with them, as he did with Joseph’s. Indeed, the nature of Jesus’ birth is most encouraging, for it speaks of a God who is not aloof but approachable, not condemning but compassionate. Joseph may not then have understood it all, but he believed it. Do you?