“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” (Matt.1:24-25)
We are not told directly in Scripture that Joseph was instructed by the angel not to engage in marital relations until Mary was delivered of her Child, so I think it would not be out of order to speculate why he declined to avail himself of the pleasure of her love, as long as we realize it is just that: speculation.
We might think it was because he wanted there to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this Baby was virgin-born. But if that was his only motivation, it was a waste of his abstinence, as it turned out. The majority of people in their day considered Jesus to be his son, born too soon for legitimacy (Luke 4:22; Jno.8:41). I realize, too, that had Joseph taken advantage of his rightful privilege as a husband, Jesus would have had an “immaculate conception,” but it would not have been a virgin birth.
Aside from the doctrinal and prophetic implications, however, I wonder if there was not a holy impetus that came into play here. When the angel appeared to Joseph (v.20), one of the first things he made clear was this: “[T]hat which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” It would seem to me that this good man possessed a reverence for God that made him shrink from anything that might besmirch what had now become a holy womb, by virtue of the “holy thing” (Luke 1:35) that had been planted within it. I can understand that.
In the same way, as far as I am concerned, the highest motivation for holy living in my own life has been the knowledge—and recognition—of the Holy Ghost of God that resides within me. Peter says in chapter one of his first Epistle, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (v.23). The conception that culminated in my New Birth was germinated with “incorruptible seed,” the Word of God that lives forever. Therefore, it was an immaculate conception, spiritually, just as much as Mary's was, physically. And I, like Joseph, find myself recoiling from anything that would besmirch the residence of a Holy God.
But, unlike Joseph, I do not always exhibit the same restraint. And when that happens, neither God nor I am pleased.
The wonder of Christmas is not only that God came to earth "dressed for the part," as a babe in the womb; but also the fact that Mary's Immaculate Conception, that culminated in a Virgin Birth, can be replicated spiritually in sinful man when an immaculate conception culminates in a New Birth.
This is the wonder and glory of Christmas. Immaculate Conception and Miraculous Birth...Mary's and ours!