Matthew 1:18-25-“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.”
Throughout this year, we will be focusing our attention on the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew and Luke give us different perspectives on the birth of Jesus (Mark and John tell us nothing). In Luke we are told the story from Mary’s perspective-the angel Gabriel goes to her to tell her the good news, that she is to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38); Mary goes to tell her cousin Elizabeth the news (Luke 1:39-40); Elizabeth confirms her story and rejoices with her (Luke 1:41-45); Mary responds with a glorious song of praise (Luke 1:46-55), and after a description of the birth of John the Baptist, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth are recounted in chapter 2. In Matthew, in the passage quoted above, it is Joseph who is visited by an angel, but only in a dream, and only after he is determined to divorce Mary on learning that she is to have a child. Jesus’ birth is summarized in just one verse. In Matthew 2, we are told of the visit by the wise men, or Magi, and the terrible response by Herod, resulting in the slaughter of innocent children. In other words, the focus in Matthew is not on Mary, but on the way the world was disrupted by the birth of Jesus. Joseph’s world was turned upside down-Herod raged at the idea that anyone besides him could be called king.
As we observe Advent and Christmas this year, it might be good to spend some time reviewing the first two chapters of both Matthew and Luke, and ask ourselves how the coming of Jesus has affected us. Like Mary, are we singing the praises of God? Or, are there times when being a Christian seems difficult, inconvenient, or dangerous? Does the world today welcome Christ, as Mary did? Or, do we shut the door in his face, like the innkeeper? Are we uncertain, like Joseph-or even hostile, like Herod? Even a casual reading of the Gospels shows us that Jesus stirred up all these emotions in all kinds of people. The good news is that whatever we may be feeling, Jesus comes to us with grace and mercy, forgiveness and peace.