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Matthew 1:18-25 – The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

Summary

Joseph, a righteous son of David, in obedience to the command of an angel, the prophetic promise of scripture, and events that are "from the Holy Spirit" (1:18, 20), recognizes this miraculous conception, takes Mary as his wife, and adopts the child as his own by naming him Jesus according to angelic instruction.

Analysis

However brief, Matthew's narrative captures the promise and the mystery of God's action in Jesus and at the same time introduces important and distinctive Matthean themes. The word genesis ("birth," 1:18) places the whole event within the creative activity of God from the beginning. God is here doing a new and yet an old thing. The explicit reference to fulfillment of prophecy for both the conception and the name "Emmanuel" ("God is with us"; 1:23) clearly marks this event as the intentional action of God. The fact that this theme brackets Matthew's story in Jesus' "I am" promise to be "with you always" (28:20) confirms its importance. Matthew takes pains to explain that the name of Jesus also is significant, as the sign that he will be the agent of God's salvation, and that this salvation will have to do with the forgiveness of sins (1:21).

The naming of Mary and Joseph and the refusal to sidestep the issue of an uncomfortable pregnancy outside of wedlock remind the reader that it is precisely in the common events of family and relationships that God's salvation takes place. Often overlooked in Christmas celebrations is the fact that it is Joseph, not Mary, who holds center stage. That the singular word "righteous" is used to describe Joseph introduces one of the most important Matthean themes for the first time. Provocative then is that we see in this righteous Joseph one who risks disobedience to the tradition and the law for the sake of obedience to the command and promise of God, given through the angel in a dream. Joseph's obedience is underscored by the verbal symmetry of the command of the angel and the response of Joseph.

Matthew 1:18-25

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But 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. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.

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10 February 2011

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