Joseph's story is a smaller story within the bigger story of God's story, His story, the story of Jesus birth. Joseph is a credible witness of Jesus birth. We have already learned that Joseph was a righteous man, who displayed God's kindness and wisdom in his life.
In his righteousness, Joseph was deciding what to do. He was a sensible man, a practical man. He was a servant. He put God first and others second. He believed that God was faithful, so he was free to serve others, rather than himself.
Joseph might have been confused or disappointed by Mary's news. But his concerns were to do the right thing in a gentle, kind, and benevolent manner. He wanted to do the right thing before God and for Mary. Joseph was all about serving God and serving others.
Joseph may have just set aside Mary's story of her miraculous conception. The truly righteous person has a humility in them that believes that God is the judge and ultimately has the wisdom to judge others and that God is very kind, gracious, and generous in his judgements. The truly righteous person carries with them the thought that only God can judge and says, "who am I to judge?"
In the midst of this time when Joseph was deciding what to do, he had a dream where God's messenger angel gave him guidance. The angel told him that he should take Mary home to be his wife and that she is carrying a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel also told him to name him Jesus or "God saves", because the child will save his people from their sins.
Joseph, the good man, the righteous man; who had so many godly qualities, had to get special guidance from God, through an angelic messenger, sent to his dream. God sent the guidance before Joseph made his next move. Joseph was diligently making his plans and God directed his steps (Prov. 16:9). It is normal to make plans and it is normal to be directed by God.
God is a God who initiates and intervenes. God has plans and we have plans. God might guide us from the good plan we are living out or executing, to a particular plan or special plan that turns out to be his best plan for us. That is what happened to Joseph. He was not about to drive off a cliff, but he was about to do the right thing.
We want to be living out a life of doing the right thing, while being open to and obedient to, if called to do a special thing. Can you imagine Joseph awakening from his sleep and saying, "I had the strangest, most preposterous dream last night", and then continuing with his plans to divorce Mary? Can you imagine that this could have been a possibility if Joseph was not the righteous servant, who was ready to do something "outside the box"?
The same Joseph who was so righteous and benevolent, kind, and gracious; in a word, godly. That same man was also willing to "course correct". He was willing to receive this different and outside the mainstream input and obey it.
There is a sad observational saying about the church, that goes something like this: The people in the most recent move of God are the ones to persecute the ones in the new move of God. What that means is that there are godly people, who's movement or now a denomination, started with a move of God, where people got revived and renewed in God.
Things settle down at some point and a new group of people, either in their midst or next to them, get a newer move of God and they become revived, renewed, and restored to God. Now here is the sad part. Some people in the first group persecute the people in the new move of God group, saying it is not real, that they are into the strange and the false, or that they are into heresy.
How this all applies to Joseph is that he was a righteous and godly man in Israel, but he was also obedient to or open to God doing something different peculiarly and particularly in his life. There were going to be people in that day to this who would whisper that this child was illegitimate and his parents were frauds. He and Mary would be the first to carry this stigma.
We can understand that people in the world who are atheists or agnostics might be offended by the virgin birth and not get it, but it hurts when your own people who claim the same God and same community of faith not only don't get it, but persecute you for it.
You might be like Joseph in that you have cultivated righteousness and godliness in your life and you were on a path to a good life in God. But then God interrupted and called you onto a special path. That special path you have been called to and are trying to live on is not understood by most others. It is a lonely path. People in your own community, tribe, or family have not understood the path God has you on. Sometimes you have even felt persecuted by other 'good' people.
When God conceived Jesus in Mary, it was a secret only known to God, to God's messenger angel(s), then to Joseph. The good news is that it was God and God's plan and Mary and Joseph were assured of that. Joseph took Mary as his wife and perhaps, as the painting above depicts, Mary was showing, when they had their wedding. The judgmental whispers might have begun then.
Everyone in the community of God is not like Joseph. Many people are unfortunately, judgmental or are quick to condemn without knowing the whole story. The most godly people look to God to judge, and many people are godly like that.
When Mary told Joseph the news of her pregnancy, Joseph did not immediately have a supernatural touch from God on his shoulder or in his heart, that told him the revelatory truth. God did not even speak to him as he departed from Mary or when he got alone. God had to wait till Joseph was asleep and send a royal messenger angel into Joseph's dream.
When we are asleep, we are unconscious. Our minds are no longer at work, thinking, planning, or deciding. When Joseph was awake, he may have been having a furious dialogue in his own mind, with himself. No one could get a word in edgewise. He perhaps could not hear when he was awake, because he was so engaged with himself is solving this problem and wanting to do the righteous thing.
So, God sent him a special message when he was asleep. One lesson here is that God knows we are human and works with our humanity. After all, God designed us and knows how our human bodies work, including our minds; conscious and unconscious.
We learn from Joseph that we all have a story that we are living out. God also has a story and we are in God's story too. We do our best to live out our story, inspired by God's unfolding tailor-made plan for each of us. Through Joseph, we see that God intervenes in our lives, in our plans, at times, to help us follow his tailor-made plan for our lives. God is also gracious to speak clear enough so that we hear and know it is him guiding us, but God is also often secret in what he does with us and many others may not understand and even oppose us as we follow God.