SynopsisThis passage tells a short version of the birth of Jesus. (The Gospel of Luke has more details about his birth.) Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph, becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit while she is still a virgin. When Joseph finds this out, he decides to divorce her quietly; he doesn’t want to put her to shame, because he is “a just man” (verse 19 (ESV) ).
However, while Joseph is still thinking about it, an angel appears to him in a dream, and explains the situation to him. The angel also tells Joseph that when Mary gives birth, they are to name their son Jesus—which means “the LORD saves”—because he is going to save their people from their sins.
When Joseph wakes up, he’s convinced. He takes Mary as his wife, and when their son is born, they name him Jesus. (Of course, they don’t have sex until after Jesus is born.)
ThoughtsFirst of all, I should mention (as everyone else does) that being “betrothed” is a more legally binding state than what we call being “engaged” in 21st Century North America. There are actually a couple of stages of betrothal, and when you get to the second stage, it’s as legally binding as marriage (meaning that you would need a legal divorce to end the betrothal), even though the couple would still not be married. And sexual relations would not happen until marriage.
It’s interesting that Joseph doesn’t want to put Mary to shame, because he is “a just man.” (I’m speaking from his point of view before he found out that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.) Surely it would have been just for him to allow her to deal with the consequences of her actions, wouldn’t it? I’m sure that’s what most men would have done—and they probably would have raised a big stink about it, while they were at it. In fact, going back to the discussion of betrothal, if Mary had been guilty of getting pregnant the normal way, it would actually be considered adultery, and, under Mosaic law, would be punishable by stoning. (I don’t know if the Jews would have been allowed to carry out a stoning, under the Roman rule,though; when they wanted to execute Jesus they weren’t able to.) The Bible praises Mary quite a bit, but we shouldn’t forget that Joseph was a good and honourable man, too. He handled this better than most men would have. Jesus was lucky to have two good parents to be born to. Er… he was blessed to have two such parents. Er… he blessed himself by giving himself… never mind. Thinking this way hurts my brain.