Joseph and Mary were not simply "engaged" as many modern translations tell us. Betrothal under the Mosaic Law meant that they were actually legally married; the bride price had been paid and vows had been exchanged. Only one thing remained undone during this period - the actual consummation of the marriage through sexual union. (This was different of course from our modern "enlightened" custom, where sex comes first.
Joseph: "You're pregnant? You're kidding right?"
Mary: "No, I'm pregnant ..."
Joseph: "Mary! No! How can this be? How could this happen? You've always been so pure! What have you done? You've broken your vows! Who...? What...? Why ...?"
Mary: "Joseph, please calm down. I'm still a virgin."
Joseph: "Mary, that's nonsense! How can you be pregnant and still a virgin?"
Mary: "The Holy Spirit came upon me and the power of the Most High overshadowed me. And the Child within me is holy. He's the Son of God!"
Joseph: "Mary, stop saying crazy things. That's impossible!"
Joseph: "I know that! Of course, I know that! I've said it myself many times. But God doesn't work this way! Not since Adam has a man come into this world without a human father! But what am I doing arguing theology with you?"
Mary: "Please Joseph, let me tell you how this happened. You see the angel Gabriel came to me and ..."
Joseph: "An angel? Mary, you know angels don't speak to us anymore! That only happened in the Bible!"
Mary: "Please, let me explain ..."
Joseph: "Mary, you know that I love you! But it's clear that you have sinned horribly - against God and against me. Your adultery is bad enough. Don't make matters worse by making up this lie. Don't blaspheme God by blaming Him for your sin!"
Mary: "Joseph ..."
Joseph: "Mary, Mary - please stop talking. I'll have to divorce you. I could have you stoned for adultery but I can't do that. Just go away. You've ruined our lives!”
Most of the rest of the story is familiar and can be found in the following verses. But one thing about the angel's speech may tell us a bit more about Joseph. The angel told him, "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife ..." (verse 20).
Why did the angel tell him this? Was fear a factor in Joseph's reaction to Mary's condition? Undoubtedly he felt the pressure on himself from different directions. We're told that he was "righteous". Not self-righteous, but genuinely righteous in the sense of walking with God and following God's laws. He clearly had a love for Mary. We may suppose that, knowing that both he and Mary were of the line of David, he had hoped that one day their son might turn out to be the Messiah.
And yet if he took Mary as his wife the shame of their first son's being illegitimate would haunt them. Hopes for the future would be dashed.
We don't know what became of Joseph beyond the first few chapters of Matthew's and Luke's Gospels. Apparently he died and left Mary a widow by the time Jesus entered His public ministry. But if Joseph feared shame, the shame would follow his step-Son until Jesus' death. We read that years later, some of those who opposed Jesus would say to Him, "We weren't born of fornication ..." (John 8:41). Perhaps that question about Jesus, "Isn't this the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:55) was more than simply a reference to Jesus' lowly birth. There may have been more to it than that. Perhaps the implication was, "Isn't this the illegitimate child, who that carpenter took for his own. What a disgrace!"
There are many places in this world, even in this country, where followers of the carpenter's Son may experience fear, shame and disgrace. There are even places where Christ's followers fear for their lives. Joseph overcame his fears by simply surrendering himself to the will of God.