Walking the Thin Line
Joseph, her fiance, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. ~ Matthew 1:19
Imagine that you're a young man about to get married to a young woman. In today's world, you can decide to get engaged or even "hitched" in a matter of minutes on a whim to anyone you want. In Joseph and Mary's world, marriage was not entered into lightly. First, the families talked and came to an agreement. Then when the time was deemed right, a public announcement of your intention to marry was made. At this point, you were engaged, but it wasn't like being engaged in our day. If you were a young Jewish couple, being engaged meant that except in cases of death or divorce, you were committed to each other, but you were still not doing married people things. Eventually, you would be married, but from my understanding (which is shallow, I'll admit, as my understanding is second-hand from Father McCloud's sermon on Sunday - at some point, maybe I'll look into the process more), but the date depended on, of all things, the talk about town. The bride-to-be would be focused on becoming a good wife and when she was ready word would get back to the groom and then the process would move forward. Something tells me their divorce rate was probably pretty low.
Today we see a lot of couples who get married when the young lass is with child or, in some cases, after there are a few little tots running around. The stigma that was once upon children who did not have married parents has waned significantly, it seems and no surprise given the whole sexual revolution thing, but the why by the cow when you can get the milk for free topic isn't today's focus. In Joseph and Mary's Day, though, if you were a young lady engaged to be married or the young man engaged to that young lady, you were asking for trouble....and if you knew you weren't the father, well, you probably would want to clear your name and distance yourself post haste!
That's where we find Joseph in our first focus verse. He's just learned that Mary, to whom he is engaged is with child. It doesn't directly say that he's aware at this point that the Holy Spirit is the father, but I think we might gather that his reaction to break the engagement (to divorce her) quietly that he's been informed of this very odd set of circumstances and doesn't want to be in this mess, but also isn't keen on having this girl whom he wants to believe, stone to death (because the Jewish authorities could do just that!).
Somehow, Joseph manages to get to sleep after mulling this bit of crazy over and get a surprise visit from an angel of the Lord who tells him that Mary isn't crazy - she really has been impregnated by the Holy Spirit and God wants Joseph to marry her, be the child's earthly father and name him Jesus.