19 March 2015

Matthew 1:18-25

“They shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.” (v. 23)

Psalm: Psalm 89:26-36


Today's passage comes from the first chapter of the New Testament. In most Bibles only a few pages separate Matthew's account of the life of Jesus from the Old Testament, even though it was written several hundred years later. However, in many ways Matthew is keen to stress how he is telling not a new story but a continuation of the same story: God's ongoing revelation to, and love for, God's own people. Immediately before today's passage, in fact, Matthew sets out how Jesus' family tree (his genealogy) included many of the famous names that we encountered in the Old Testament: Abraham, David, Hezekiah, etc (Matthew 1:1-17). The story of Joseph's encounter with the angel also brings to mind similar stories from the past, such as the angel's visit to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael (Genesis 16:7-13), or to Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson (Judges 13). Matthew stresses as well that Joseph was a good and faithful Jew, "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:19), just like those we encountered in so many Old Testament stories. He was understandably concerned that his wife-to-be was pregnant but, after the angel's visit, he heeded God's command and took care of Mary as he was meant to do.

Matthew also emphasises that what happened to Joseph and Mary was part of this continuing story by explicitly referring to a passage in Isaiah, where the people are promised that a virgin, or young woman, will conceive as a sign of hope for the future (Isaiah 7:14). The exact interpretation of this verse and how Mary conceived has caused considerable debate over the years and many faithful Christians hold different views on the matter. What is perhaps more important to note is that the promise made in Isaiah and here in Matthew is the same: 'Emmanuel', which means "God with us" in Hebrew. God has always been present with people in the Old Testament in different ways. The good news for Matthew is that God will now be present with people as a human being: Jesus Christ.

To Ponder

  • Earlier this week the Church and country celebrated Mothering Sunday. Although there is also a Father's Day it often receives much less attention. How can we better honour the contribution that fathers play in the lives of children and families?
  • How do you feel the continuing presence of God with us today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.