- Isaiah 7:10-17
- Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
- Romans 1:1-7
- Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus includes a quotation from Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” We have moved from the gift of promise from the first three weeks of Advent to the actuality of the promise coming to life. “Emmanuel” – God is with us.
In first century Palestine, it was the custom for parents to arrange marriages of their children when boys were as young as thirteen and girls as young as twelve. Upon completion of the marriage contract and the establishment of the bride price, the couple were officially and legally bound; however, they often continued to live with their families for one or more years. At the time for the bride to move to the groom’s house, the marriage ceremony took place, with a feast afterward at the bride’s home.
This period between the espousal and wedding seems to fit the situation of Mary and Joseph. (The traditional image of Joseph is as an old man, although nothing in the Scriptures supports this.) This would make Mary’s pregnancy a cause for Joseph to be divorce her, thus disgracing her. But before he takes any action, he has a dream (today’s Gospel lesson). In the dream, an angel of the Lord speaks to him as “son of David”, thereby affirming the messianic ancestry (King David’s son, of Jesse’s root) and telling him to name him Jesus – or Joshua, which means “God saves.”
Questions for personal reflection or group discussion:
- Put yourself in Joseph’s place. What feelings and inner struggles might you experience?
- What is the significance of Joseph’s dreams? (Matthew 1:20-21; 2:13, 19, 22). How do we regard dreams and visions in our world today?
- How is the messiahship of Jesus defined by his name?
- What does “God with us” mean to you?
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the one born to save us from the power of sin and death, we see signs of God’s love in birth, in love, in creation, and in the gifts that we receive this season.
The role of the Christian congregation, and the individual Christian, is to reflect the presence of God in the world today. From the Fourth Sunday of Advent through the Feast of the Epiphany, the church celebrates the Incarnation – God is present “in the flesh” of human life. God meets us in the midst of our human struggle. The collect for the First Sunday after Christmas Day expresses this well: Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives . . . (BCP 213).