18 December 2015

Matthew 1:18-24

"But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins'." (vv. 20-21)

Psalm: Psalm 61


Imagine the awkward questions Matthew had to ask to get his facts straight on this one! In those days, engagement or betrothal was a serious business, binding for a whole year before the marriage was celebrated and consummated. It was breakable only by death or divorce. On learning of Mary's pregnancy, Joseph decided not to put her through the ordeal of public trial and shame, seeking instead a private arrangement. But then he encountered a messenger of God in a dream.

What's in a name? The Bible clearly thinks names are important, especially when given by God. First, Joseph is addressed by the angel as "son of David" - emphasising his royal lineage (Joseph was a descendent of King David). Jesus may not be related to this family by blood but when Joseph names the child, as he is commanded to, he acknowledges Jesus as his son, and therefore a rightful heir. And then there's the name of Jesus which means 'Yahweh is salvation' or 'God to the rescue'. Jesus shares the same name as Joshua ('Jesus' is the Greek version of the popular Hebrew name) who led God's people violently and victoriously into the Promised Land. Matthew, however, subtly clarifies that Jesus is not 'that' kind of Messiah. He will save his people 'from their sins'. Just what this means will be explored in the rest of Matthew's Gospel. And there is another important name, a name prophesied in Isaiah 7:14: Emmanuel (or Immanuel) meaning 'God is with us'.

The word translated 'birth' in verse 18 is 'genesis'. This may take our thoughts back to the creation story. We may think that, as God 'intervened' to create Adam and Eve, here God 'intervenes' again in the miracle of the virgin birth. Stanley Hauerwas, a famous theologian, said, "God does not need to intervene in creation, because God has never been absent from creation." God is with us. If God had ever been absent, even for a second, surely the universe would have collapsed into oblivion. And the genealogy of Jesus reminded us that, throughout history, God is with us and at work in a very special way.

In the person of Jesus, however, God is with us in a new and unique way - found as one of us. And so the presence of the Lord saturates this story from the beginning of creation to its ultimate salvation, but here we see wonderfully how at one brief moment it rested on a knife-edge, relying on the obedience of a righteous man and the potential of an unborn child.

To Ponder

  • For Jesus to live, die and rise again, he also needed to be born and brought up. How easy is it to underestimate the role of Joseph and Mary in the story of faith?
  • What does it mean for you that Jesus 'will save his people from their sins'?
  • Jesus' birth was clearly a miracle, but in many ways so was yours. Today, look out for the presence of God in every human life.

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!