Matthew 1:18–21 

18Now 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. 19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20But 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. 21And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of year when we recall both God’s promise to our fathers that one day He would send a Son of Adam to rescue the world from sin and death and God’s promise to us that one day that Son shall return in glory to vindicate all who have trusted in Him. Our passage today begins describing the fulfillment of God’s promise to our fathers – the birth of the Christ.

I direct us to this passage to illustrate a principle that we explored a couple weeks ago from Proverbs 12. We read in Proverbs 12:16, “A fool’s wrath is known at once, But a prudent man covers shame.” We noted that while a fool compounds shame by adding his own shameful anger and frustration to a challenging situation, a prudent man exercises self-control and strives to cover shame in so far as he is able. So notice the way that Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord, embodies this verse.

First, note that Joseph finds himself in an embarrassing and shameful situation. His betrothed is found to be with child and he knows that she is not with child by him. Nevertheless, tongues will wag and he will be accused either of being an immoral man himself or of being cuckoled by some other man. Neither was true, of course, but truth rarely slows the gossip train. Joseph is in a shameful situation.

Second, the text emphasizes Joseph’s prudence. “Joseph, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Joseph was a righteous man. He knew that great as his embarrassment was, he had no real shame for he had done nothing wrong. But Mary, he assumed, had done something wrong, something shameful. He knew that he had not had sex with her and so he deduced, wrongly, that she was with child by another man. But though Joseph believed that Mary had wronged him, though he believed that she had committed a shameful action, Joseph was determined to cover her shame and to put her away privately.

Third, Joseph did not respond hastily. “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying…” Joseph exercised self-control and was thinking carefully how he ought to respond to this situation. This self-control paved the way for God to intervene, to reveal what had really happened, and to correct Joseph’s misunderstanding of the situation. Joseph’s self-control in turn, therefore, paved the way for the salvation of the nations. No wonder then Proverbs instructs us, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Pr 16:32). 

So, again, what of you? As we enter upon this Christmas season, consider that Joseph’s self-control, his determination to cover Mary’s shame, paved the way for the birth of the Christ. And as you meditate on this, consider how you can exercise self-control this holiday season, cover the shame of family and friends, and be a light for Christ in a dark and broken world.

Reminded that we often respond hastily to real or perceived shame, let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that we, like Joseph, would think carefully before we act. And as we confess our sin, let us kneel together. We will have a time of individual, silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.