I have a new great-niece, Isla Frances, eight pounds eleven ounces and 21 inches long with a full head of hair. Isla is the fourth grandchild for my sister Marsha and the first child for Whitney. Isn’t it amazing how, whether it is Abraham and Sarah, Ahaz, Isaiah, Mary and Joseph or Stephanie and Eric, how exciting it is waiting for the arrival of a new baby. Whether it is 4000, 2700, 2000 years ago or the present day a new baby is an amazing wonderment and a gift from God!
We don’t know who the pregnant young woman is in today’s story from Isaiah, it could be King Ahaz’s wife carrying their son Hezekiah or it could have been Isaiah’s own wife the prophetess. King Ahaz and the people of Judah are very worried that they will be attacked by their neighbors to the north. Isaiah is telling King Ahaz to trust God to protect them. Isaiah even offers to provide Ahaz with a sign from God to reassure Ahaz, but Ahaz refuses to trust God. Isaiah gets frustrated with Ahaz and provides him with a sign anyway. It is a familiar sign of a child that the listeners of the story would understand. By the time the unborn child is ready to be weaned the threat to Jerusalem will no longer exist. The child is portrayed eating curds and honey, simple foods for a child being weaned and it means Jerusalem is not under siege and they must be at peace if the mother was able to provide this food. Wild honey and milk would not be easily available in Jerusalem if it was under siege. This was a sign for King Ahaz that God is trustworthy and reliable. Ahaz refused to believe Isaiah or to trust in God.
Matthew chooses to use this same story from Isaiah as a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah which Matthew says is Jesus. Matthew wants to show that the gospel is linked to the Old Testament, that the Old Testament makes prophecies that are fulfilled by Jesus, that God is active throughout the history of humankind. Matthew devotes the first 17 verses of his gospel to provide Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham to David to Joseph including four women three of whom were probably gentiles. Gentiles are included in God’s story from the beginning. Then Matthew does a strange thing of not saying that Joseph is the father of Jesus, but that Joseph is the husband of Mary who is the mother of Jesus. When Jesus is born, Joseph names the child which means Joseph has accepted Jesus as his legal son. Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience so it is important to show that Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and David.
Joseph and Mary are engaged, but Mary still lived with her parents and it was not culturally acceptable for Mary to be pregnant before she moved in with Joseph. If Joseph is not the father of the child then it would be expected of Joseph to treat Mary as if she had committed adultery and to send her away. Joseph did not want to disgrace Mary so he planned to do this quietly. Before Joseph could do this he had a dream in which an angel tells Joseph that the child Mary carries was conceived by the spirit of God and that Joseph should accept Mary as his wife. Furthermore the angel tells Joseph that he is to name the child, claiming him as his own, and that he is to name the child Jesus which means “‘God saves’ because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph takes Mary into his home and accepts the child as his own naming him Jesus, but does not have relations with Mary until after the child is born.
Why does Matthew have Jesus conceived before Mary moves in with her husband Joseph? Matthew wants to say that Jesus’ father is God, that Jesus is divine, the Son of God and human, the son of Mary. Matthew wants to assure his audience that the Hebrew God is not like the Greek gods who assume human form and trick mortal women into relationships. Jesus the Son of God and the Holy Spirit have been with God since before the beginning of time. God created the heavens and the earth and all that exists including humankind. God chooses to come live with his creation in human form through his Son Jesus Christ. The prophets prophesied about the coming of a Messiah and Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies. It is important for Matthews’ telling of the Nativity Story that Mary is a virgin, that neither Joseph nor any other man is Jesus’ father, God is Jesus’ father conceived by the Holy Spirit. Unlike Luke’s gospel we do not hear Mary’s story, we hear the story from Joseph’s perspective. Unlike his ancestor Ahaz, Joseph decides to trust God, to believe that God is active in his life and in history and, obeying God, takes Mary home as his wife and accepts Jesus as his legal son.
This week we excitedly await Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, a perfect baby boy with ten little fingers and toes, a dimple on his chin and skin as soft as down. Last week I suggested you think about why you love Jesus and prepare a 30 second elevator speech that you could give to anyone who asked. This morning’s gospel reading gives a pretty good summary of who Matthew thinks Jesus is and why Matthew loves Jesus. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham and David including some Gentile mothers. Jesus is the Son of God and the son of Mary, divine and human. Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus is the Messiah, the savior of humankind. God is active in history and God can be trusted to be with us in the difficult times of our life. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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