It is probable that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months until the birth of John the Baptist. Then, 3 months pregnant herself, Mary returned to Nazareth. For those 3 months she had lived with the wonder, excitement, and thrill of being the God-bearer. Now she had to face the scorn and rejection of Joseph and the hometown people.
Again, imagine Mary’s predicament. She was clearly in an embarrassing situation. Joseph too was in a tough spot. A Jewish engagement often lasted a year and was a kind of marriage without sex. If Mary got pregnant during this period, tongues would wag. If Joseph, knowing that he was not the father, decided to break the engagement to Mary, she could be stoned to death. On the other hand, if Joseph went ahead with the wedding to Mary, people would think he had violated the strict customs of chastity during the engagement period.
Follow the struggle Joseph had within himself as soon as he learned that Mary was pregnant. The story is recorded in Matthew 1:18–25:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Now, imagine Joseph’s dilemma. We don’t know from the Bible whether Mary tried to explain her pregnancy to him. Had you been Joseph, would you have believed her story about an angel and a divine conception? Or would you more likely have thought that Mary had been untrue to her vows? Joseph too needed an angelic visitor to convince him of the truth concerning his present circumstances.
Joseph was in a wretched situation. He needed supernatural proof to believe in the supernatural birth of Jesus. He too needed to believe the word of God through an angel and then act on that word. Joseph by faith became willing to pass himself off as the father of Mary’s baby, even though the townspeople would believe he had taken advantage of her during their engagement. It was the only way to protect her.
During Jesus’ later ministry we hear the Pharisees asking with a sneer, “Where is your father?” (john 8:19). Did they question whether Joseph was really Jesus’ father? In the same chapter, they tell Jesus, “We are not illegitimate children” (v. 41 emphasis added), implying that Jesus was. Clearly both Mary and Joseph were compromised. No amount of explanation could clear their names and reputations. They had to live with the reproach of a society with the highest standards of sexual purity in the world at that time.