Weekly Meditation: 18th December 2016
Matthew liked to refer to the prophets, and, although he had to stretch one or two prophecies in order to make them fit, he was zealous in proving that Jesus’ birth had long been foretold by the Scriptures and came in fulfilment of God’s purposes. Writing mainly for Jews, Matthew’s aim was to prove that their own scriptures – our Old Testament – had accurately predicted not only the birth of Jesus, but also minute details of his life, and his gospel is full of Old Testament references, together withthe words ‘this was to fulfil...’.
In telling the nativity story, Matthew first deals with the rather awkward account of an apparently illegitimate pregnancy. Mary was pledged to Joseph but not yet married, and the child was not his (1:19). Joseph is told by an angel, however, that the baby has been conceived ‘by the Holy Spirit’ and he is to be called ‘Jesus’ [the Lord saves]. (1:20-21).
Matthew makes it clear from the outset, then, that this is no ordinary child, and not the product of union between Joseph and Mary. God is the father of this baby. Further, the birth is to be in fulfilment of a prophecy of Isaiah (7:14) which foretold that ‘the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’. Matthew adds the explanation that Immanuel means ‘God with us’ (1:23). So the child to be born is God himself, entering our world to ‘save his people from their sins’ (1:21). In these few verses, we have the doctrine of the Holy Trinity tentatively established for those who are observant enough to notice. We see a God who is the father to a Son who is also God, conceived by the Holy Spirit who was present at the beginning of creation and who will be proved to be God also. The Three will be presented together again at Christ’s baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), but for the time being there is enough to establish this birth as a unique and holy event.
Genealogies were important to Jewish people. The genealogies in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels demonstrate Jesus to be a descendent of King David. As a Jew himself, the apostle Paul realised the necessity in his preaching to present Jesus as the legal and fleshly descendent of David – hence his right to the kingship – but also in his status as the Son of God (Romans 1:3-4). Like Matthew, Paul emphasised strongly the fact that God had ‘promised beforehand through his prophets regarding his Son’ (1:2-3), and further demonstrated that ‘through the Spirit of holiness [Jesus] was declared with power to be the Son of God’ (1:4). So again we have the elements of the Holy Trinity together.
But what was it all for? Remember, Matthew’s gospel stated that Jesus ‘would save his people from their sins’ (1:21). Paul, writing in full agreement, assures us that in Jesus’ name both Jews and Gentiles are called ‘to belong to Jesus Christ’ (1:6). This is what Christmas is for, not just the celebrating and feasting, not just for singing carols, but for a lifetime of following Christ for salvation.