“His mother, Mary, was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) Pledged was betrothal, which meant that Mary in actuality was married to Joseph. At that time the betrothal was the first step of two in the marriage ceremony. It lasted a year during which time the groom prepared a place for his wife. When it was ready, he came for his bride and took her to his house.
Joseph had wed a virgin who before he could bring her to their new home became pregnant. The emotional pain and disappointment would have been crushing. This is not a casual relationship gone wrong. Because of the brevity of the scripture it is easy for a western person who is unfamiliar with this form of marriage to misinterpret the significance of this statement. From this point of view it seemed more of a business transaction, like purchasing a cow or a car, rather than a relationship of depth. Joseph would have known Mary before the marriage was arranged. He probably told his father that he liked her and would love to be her husband. Having arranged the marriage and entering into the betrothal period Joseph and Mary would have talked daily. I can imagine him showing her the progress he was making on their home. He would have given her gifts in preparation for the marriage. The anticipation of holding his wife in his arms intimately for the first time would have consumed his thoughts. Fear and desire equally daily companions as he laboured toward the celebration of his wedding.
Marriage of a man and a woman is to be a beautiful picture of our Lord and us. Jesus said: “There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14: 2,3) While we wait for our lover to return we commune with Him through the Holy Spirit. We are not left alone. The marriage picture is one of faithfulness; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
To find his wife pregnant would have been devastating. The one he trusted, the one he loved, the one he worked daily for, the longing of his heart, had betrayed him with another man. I don’t think Mary’s story of an angelic visitation really held much credence with Joseph. Remember the Jewish people had not had a prophet in 400 years. It wasn’t common to have angelic visitation or supernatural phenomena happening. She was pregnant and there was only one way that could happen. Sure the Holy Spirit came upon you and there you are a fulfilment of prophecy.
The word of the Lord came to Mary and in faith she believed and received. When the word of the Lord comes, we can embrace it, as did Mary, with faith only to find it throws our whole world upside down. She probably never imagined while standing in the presence of Gabriel that Joseph would have thought of divorcing her. After all she loved him because he was a righteous man who cared for her.
The word of God always has an impact.