Gospel Story: The Birth of Jesus

For the next eight days, the Gospel readings are all from the ‘Infancy Narratives’, that section of the gospels of Matthew and Luke which deal with the birth of our Saviour.

This part of the Gospel was composed last of all, after the accounts of the public ministry of Jesus. But we can see here all the great themes of salvation.

This account of the anunciation of the birth of the Lord, which comes from Matthew, has Joseph as its central figure. In some ways it complements Luke’s narrative, which accords pride of place to Mary.

Matthew emphasizes two important points in his account:

Firstly, Jesus is not Joseph’s son in the natural way, but born of God’s power, the Holy Spirit.

And second, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the longings of Israel, a perspective very dear to Matthew.

Let’s look at both these points more closely.

Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married, but had not yet come together and set up house. When Mary is found pregnant, Joseph is in a quandary. As a man of principle, he wishes to dissolve the marriage contract, but as a considerate man, he does not wish to shame Mary in public. As he worries over what to do, a divine intervention through a dream resolves his indecision.

Notice that Matthew’s first chapters are full of angels and dreams, symbols for the way God communicates with us. In this instance, apart from reassuring Joseph of the divine nature of this child, the angel also gives it a name: ‘Yeshua’, or ‘Joshua,’ which means ‘Yahweh saves’. The name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of Yeshua. The angel also defines the Child’s essentially spiritual mission: “he will save his people from their sins”, not from their political enemies, or from natural disasters.

Matthew now brings in a reference from the Old Testament: the prophecy of Isaiah about the birth of a royal child at a time of national disaster. This actually happened at a time when Israel was threatened by the Assyrian Empire. The baby born then, Prince Hezekiah, was seen as a sign of God’s care for Israel and a promise that the nation wouldn’t go under.

There’s a parallel here: in Jesus, God cares for us in a unique way. In Jesus, God is present to his people in an entirely new way. God is with us, God has not forgotten his people. Israel’s longings will be fulfilled, and how !

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