Sunday 22 December 2019

Bible Book:

'She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' (v. 21)

Matthew 1:18-25 Sunday 22 December 2019

Psalm: Psalm 80


Matthew wrote in a particular context: the destruction by the Romans of Jerusalem and the Temple in the recent war of AD 66-73. Jewish self-confidence was shattered. Was there a future for God’s people? Was God credible?

Matthew’s conviction was that Jewish despair could be turned to hope; and God’s historic dealings with Judaism could be broadened to embrace Gentiles. How so?

Matthew takes his readers back roughly 80 years, to tell the story of someone whose life had been shot through with controversy and disgrace from beginning to end. Yet, Matthew claimed, Jesus was none other than the long-awaited Messiah.

But how improbable was that?! His mother Mary had become pregnant in the period between her betrothal to Joseph and their married life together. Righteous Joseph knew he was not responsible.

Matthew insists there is an alternative description and explanation, which came directly from God – using what Matthew took to be normal channels of divine revelation (dreams, an angel, the fulfilment of promises in the Jewish scriptures). This made clear the significance of Jesus’s life, in a way that everyday experience or village gossip never could. Jesus was a unique fruit of what the Holy Spirit ordinarily does, namely, create persons. And God brought first Mary and then Joseph into willing partnership with God’s purpose, for Judaism and for the world.  

And that purpose was:

  • To declare God’s loving presence everywhere, but uniquely in Jesus (‘Emmanuel’ in verse 23) and secondarily in the witness of Jesus’s disciples and the church. 
  • Disclosed in the meaning of Jesus’s birth name – ‘God saves’ in the Hebrew (v. 21). God’s eternal mercy will forgive the sins of the Jewish people (that had surely merited the catastrophe of the recent war). And through Jesus’s story as a whole, God offers everyone (Jew and Gentile) a new life of love and freedom, justice and peace.


To Ponder:

  • With no exceptions, we know that a person is conceived by sexual intercourse or an equivalent assisted process. A DNA test of the foetus confirms genetic contributions from a male and a female. So Matthew’s story of Jesus’s conception is fraught with difficulties for the modern reader. How and where can we help one another in the church to talk through these difficulties? How can we learn to respect Matthew’s imaginative attempt in his day and age to share, through his account, his theological convictions?
  • How will you celebrate over Christmas the deepest conviction of faith, that the mind and character of Jesus, the love of Jesus, may be born in us, in our hearts, making all the difference to the way we think and behave?
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