And if Joseph had given way to fear and respectability, and not married Mary, what then? The angel who visits Joseph in a dream certainly recognises the fear present; 'do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife' he says. And Joseph is certainly between a rock and a hard place; it's a choice between love and fear; the fulfilment of plans versus their disruption; respectability versus bravery.
And love wins in this battle in Joseph's mind and heart. With two thousand years of hindsight, we can see the honoured place this has brought him in the Christian story, and that it guaranteed the young Jesus a stable home, a trade to learn. But all this was far from clear as Joseph wrestled with the decision; what the future would hold was uncertain, unknown.
That future, now embraced in Joseph's decision made in love, opened up a world of possibility which would otherwise have not been possible for the pregnant Mary and for the child inside her.
This has spoken to me this week as I have contemplated this story. That decisions based on fear shut stuff down; decisions made for God and good, open up possibilities undreamed of. It does not mean I shall never fear again, but I am sufficiently away of the nearness of fear and its close cousin anxiety as a real option in any decisions, to know it can become a default position, which needs grace to change. Maybe this is why the Bible has, I'm told, three hundred and sixty fives references which read 'Do not fear' or 'Do not be afraid'. Almost as if we need a daily reminder that there are other options, real options, which open up avenues undreamed of.