The New Testament begins with a list of names, then quickly moves on to the story of a man who thought his fiancee had cheated on him. The man's response is exemplary.
He lived in a culture where engagement (betrothal) was legally binding and adultery, in theory, carried the death penalty. Yet here she was, pregnant, and there was no doubt that the baby was not his.
Joseph, we are told, was a righteous man. He still cared for Mary. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace. So he made plans to divorce her quietly. This meant that he would give her a certificate that would allow her to marry someone else. When adultery is a criminal offence you need to be very sure before you before you marry a divorced woman*. The certificate was all-important. Joseph would give her the certificate with the minimum of fuss.
And this matters. Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus has a lot to say about righteousness. Here, right at the beginning, we get a glimpse of the righteous behaviour that Jesus is looking for. Maybe Jesus was influenced by his dad.
We can only guess how Joseph felt.
The story goes on to say that things were not as they seemed. It's a wonderful story. But let's not miss the wonderful character of Joseph, a man who embodied the teaching of Jesus, even before it was given.
* If that sentence sounds sexist, that's how the law was.
For most of us, though not all, Christmas is a busy time.
For some it's our jobs, for others family or social activities or, dare I say it, church.
On a bad day, Christian faith can add to the pressure. We feel we ought to be inviting people to carol services or delivering invitations. And we feel that our celebrations ought to be different, when we are caught up in the same rush as everyone else.
So this Sunday I want to focus on one phrase from the Christmas story. It's the bit that says Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Mary didn't go rushing around. She didn't, as far as the story tells us, tell everyone in sight. I guess she had enough to do with a young baby. Or maybe she grasped that what had happened was so wonderful, that she couldn't help turning it over and over in her mind.
A virgin birth.
A king in a manger.
The power of the Holy Spirit.
And yet, nothing had changed. The Roman Empire still had the people under its thumb. The job of raising a child hadn't changed.
Only those who ponder will really get it. Treasuring and pondering may be the most important things to do this Christmas time. Take a deep breath and try it for a few minutes.