Joseph is betrothed to Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 17, 2022]. Original source: Image donated by Jim Womack and Anne Richardson.

RCL Year A, Advent 4
Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7 and 16-18, Romans 1:1-7, Saint Matthew 1:18-25

The story of Jesus’ birth in Saint Matthew differs greatly from the story in Saint Luke. There is in Matthew no tax requiring the Holy Family to travel to Bethlehem, no shepherds, and no manger. The emphasis is on Joseph and his choices rather than Mary and her choices, as in Saint Luke. Later we will see that Matthew includes the Wise Men and that Luke omits them.

I hope the separate stories do not present a stumbling block to you. They never have for me. I understand that Matthew and Luke were written separately, perhaps for different communities of followers of Jesus. From the early times, both Gospels have been accepted as authoritative, along with Mark and John, neither of which go into any detail about Jesus’ birth. This stands to reason. If God is infinite, it would take an infinite number of stories to tell God’s full story.

In the story Saint Matthew tells, we see quite clearly God doing a new thing. Instead of parting waters, so his people can march on dry ground, instead of granting victory or defeat in battle, and instead of guiding providentially his chosen people and their neighbors, God does a new thing. And the new thing is this. The son of the young woman in Isaiah will be named Immanuel. The son of Mary in the Gospel will be named Emmanuel. “Emmanuel” means, as Matthew explains, “God is with us.”

“God is with us” in Matthew means that no one has very far to go to be in touch with God. The law that Jeremiah prophesied would be written on our hearts[1] is coming into being with the birth of Jesus. As divine, Jesus brings to human flesh the high and lofty God. Instead of guiding and commanding us, God is with us.

We cannot exaggerate the difference between God being outside of us, giving commands and guiding us, and God being with us. God being with us is a new thing, and one of Matthew’s main points is this relationship with God begins with Jesus.

Jesus enters the lives of Mary and Joseph humbly and quietly. He does not take them over. Their coöperation with God is essential. God will not override their will or their choice. In Jesus, God makes a home with them both. Matthew emphasizes that God guides Joseph, who must agree with God’s guidance for this new relationship to come to be. Twice in the Gospel today God communicates with Joseph through dreams, and twice Joseph obeys God’s promptings.

Matthew is telling us that in this new relationship with God, God will communicate with us, will prompt us, will guide us, and will lead us to him.

This is outstandingly good news. It means that if we are receptive to God, if we are receptive to his promptings, God will guide us to our true home. Matthew makes this point again in his next chapter. The Wise Men see God’s star. They recognize it as God’s, and they follow it. They follow it to God in Jesus. And they worship the true and living God in Jesus.

One way or another God is trying to attract your attention. My advice, at Christmas and throughout the Year, is to give God your attention and to follow him, as Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men do. They are models for us all. And I take it that if we follow as they follow, we shall never be led astray. We said it earlier in the Psalm: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; * show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”[2]

[1] Jeremiah 31:33.

[2] Psalm 80:18.