Mary is in the fourth month of her pregnancy. Recall that she spent the early part of her pregnancy visiting her relative Elizabeth in the Judean hills to the south. But now Mary has returned home to Nazareth. Here, her pregnancy will soon become public knowledge. Imagine how distressing the situation is for her!
What makes matters worse is that Mary is engaged to marry a local carpenter named Joseph. And she knows that according to God’s Law to Israel, a woman who is engaged to one man but who willingly has sexual relations with another man is to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24) Hence, even though Mary has not been immoral, she probably wonders both how she can explain her pregnancy to Joseph and what will happen.
Mary has been away for three months, so we can be sure that Joseph is eager to see her. When they meet, Mary likely tells him of her condition, doing her best to explain that her pregnancy is by means of God’s holy spirit. Yet, as you can imagine, this is a very difficult thing for Joseph to understand and to believe.
Joseph knows that Mary is a good woman and that she has a fine reputation. And he loves her dearly. Still, despite what she claims, it seems to Joseph that she could only be pregnant by some other man. Joseph does not want her to be stoned to death or to be disgraced publicly; hence, he makes up his mind to divorce her secretly. In those days, engaged people were viewed as married, and a divorce was required to end an engagement.
Later, while Joseph is still weighing these matters, he goes to sleep. Jehovah’s angel appears to him in a dream and says: “Do not be afraid to take your wife Mary home, for what has been conceived in her is by holy spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”—Matthew 1:20, 21.
When Joseph wakes up, how grateful he is that the issue is now clearer! He does not delay in doing what the angel directed. He takes Mary to his home. This is a public action that serves, in effect, as a marriage ceremony, giving notice that Joseph and Mary are now a married couple. Nevertheless, Joseph does not have sexual relations with Mary while she is pregnant with Jesus.
Months later, Joseph and Mary, who is heavy with child, must get ready for a trip away from their home in Nazareth. Where do they need to go at a time when Mary is about to give birth?