Joseph returned home from a busy day at the shop. He smelled like cedar with a hint of balsam. Sons of David deserved a table fit for kings. Mary would love it. He could hardly wait to enjoy their first meal around it as a family.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Joseph hadn’t seen Mary in three months. She had gone to visit her older cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with a miracle baby. At her age, she would need all the help she could get.
The scandal started the minute Mary returned home to Nazareth. She couldn’t wait to tell Joseph about the buzz surrounding her new first cousin once-removed John. It was part of some news Mary had of her own, too. But before she could see Joseph her “news” was obvious to everyone. You couldn’t mistake the baby bump. Mary “was found” to be pregnant (Mt 1.18). Mary knew she carried a miracle baby of her own but she’d left town before telling anyone, not even Joseph (Lk 1.39).
All Joseph knew was Mary left town and three months later came back pregnant. Who was it? Did Zacharias and Elizabeth know? Never in a million years did he think she could do such a thing.
There was no way he could go through with the wedding now. Joseph knew Deuteronomy. He knew what Moses prescribed for adulteresses. There was no shortage of advice around town to that end. Stone the whore.
But Joseph was a decent man and still loved Mary dearly. She suffered enough disgrace already so there was no reason for any public humiliation. Maybe there was a way he could end their betrothal quietly. He just needed a couple of witnesses willing to protect what was left of Mary’s reputation. Joseph would sleep on it.
Then the unthinkable happened.
An angel appeared to him a dream to set the record straight. Mary had not stepped out on Joseph. The Holy Spirit had stepped in.
Gestating in Mary’s womb was the One Isaiah’s people would call Immanu-El (עִמָּ֖נוּ אֵֽל) (Mt 1.23; Is 7.14; 9.6; 8.10). The With Us God. And when he was born you Joseph would call him Jesus — Yeshua — because the With Us God is also the Save Us God (Mt 1.21, 25).
Joseph would name Mary’s son like every father named their own biological children. In naming Jesus, Joseph joined Arthur Dimmesdale on the scaffold. He outed himself as the alleged father and let everyone assume the worst, both about him (cf. Lk 1.23; Jn 6.42) and his Son (cf. 8.19). Jesus would take Joseph’s scandal with him to his grave.
Neither Joseph or Mary ever corrected the record because With Us is God (μεθ᾿ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός) (Mt 1.23). (“With us” is intentionally placed before “God” for emphasis.) He will determine who knows that and when (cf. Lk 1.41-45). Let them talk. Only what The With Us God knows really matters.
God is not merely with us in that Jesus lived proximately to other humans. He is not with us in that he mingled among the mortals. He is not with us because he inhabited the same space we do.
With us he is. With us in our shame. With us in our sin. With us in scandal. With us in weakness. With us in repentace. With us in death. With us in resurrection. With us for eternity.
God is never generically with us. He is salvifically with us. Jesus doesn’t narrate our story. He enters into it. With Us. There is no other way to save us than to be With Us (Heb 2.14-18).
It’s no wonder Matthew ended his gospel the way it began. The unthinkable happened.
The Son of David, freshly scarred and recently risen, stood before eleven men. Some of them doubtful like Joseph was (Mt 28.17). He deputized them with Trinitarian authority and promised them “I am with you always” (ἐγὼ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν εἰμι) (v20). I With You I Am. Always and forever.
With you in your witness. With you in your baptizing. With you in your pain. With you in your forgottenness. With you in your martyrdom.
Jesus is not with us in the way a father is psychologically “with” his son on the football field or daughter on the recital stage. An anxious but hopeful bystander.
Jesus is with us in the way a father stands as best man at his son’s wedding. The way a mother grips her young daughter’s hand in the delivery room. The way a child visits the grave of his parents. He suffers and rejoices with us (Heb 4.15-16). Always and forever.
Let them talk. I With You I Am.