Matthew recorded the birth of Jesus. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, assuring him that he shouldn’t fear to take Mary as his wife. The angel said, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV). This is literally the best news for mankind! God is the author of life. Sin leads to death. Since we all sin, we need a savior who can save us from our own sins.
That God loved us enough to send his son to take away our sins is a miracle. Sin is destructive. It always harms people, breaks up relationships, and can even lead to self-harm. Being freed from all of our sins is a gift unlike any other. Eternal salvation is something we can’t really comprehend. To worship God for the rest of eternity is the best gift we can ever be given.
As we celebrate Christmas, it’s a reminder of how blessed we are that we serve a God who rescued us from our sins. It’s a time to reflect and share in our blessings with others. Because God loves us, we should take time to share gifts with others who are less fortunate. Many people will spend Christmas alone. We need to remember and bless them in the name of Jesus.
We all know the verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). God didn’t just give His son on the cross, but he gave him in birth too. The depth of love that God has for us is difficult for us to grasp.
When the birth of Christ was announced, it was great news for the Jewish people who had been waiting for the Messiah to come. We especially see this with a man named Simeon, “and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). Simeon was told that he wouldn’t die until he was able to see the baby Jesus. When he did, he took him in his arms and blessed him.
Jesus’ life was rooted in justice and righteousness, and his love flowed from that foundation. Love required him to radically defend the innocent and vulnerable, to heal the sick and care for the poor and downtrodden. This is what love looks like. Love is a fierce defender. Ultimate love saves. As we look towards the birth of Jesus, we most definitely need to focus on his love!
When Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She then exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42 ESV). Elizabeth claimed that her baby leaped for joy at the sound of Mary and she said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (vs. 45).
Mary then broke out into a song of praise, beginning by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (vs. 46, 47). This song is known by it’s Latin name, “The Magnificat” which means my soul magnifies the Lord. The word for magnify means to make great or large.
When we look closely at the birth narrative, it’s incredible that Mary had such faith in God. She believed what the angel told her about conceiving a child and becoming the mother of the Lord. Not only did Mary believe, but her soul actually magnified the Lord! She was determined to worship God in all that she did. Her song points not to her, but to God. It’s a song of praise for God’s goodness and holiness.
We Christians rightfully emphasize Jesus’ origins in the miraculous virgin birth. But there is more to the story of where Jesus came from beyond Mary. In fact, Matthew and Luke give detailed genealogies, detailing Jesus’ lineage. Matthew’s account has always fascinated me. He divides it up in three sets of 14 generations and decides to trace it to Joseph instead of Mary. What’s even more interesting is that Matthew includes four women besides Mary.
He mentions Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah). The really interesting thing is that the women were foreigners, had children out of major scandals, and were faithful to God. Matthew seems to include them to show that the fulfilment of the scriptures includes people who received grace for their faithfulness. Matthew also doesn’t sanitize the lineage of Jesus. He includes people, men and women, who were far from perfect.
Matthew groups the generations this way: “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17 ESV). In grouping the genealogies in groups of fourteen (7 indicates perfection/completion of something), he is showing that Jesus is the completion and perfection of God’s covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises that a messiah would come through David.
As we reflect on the birth of Christ, we can take a deeper look at how God includes unlikely people into His perfect plan of salvation.
Matthew records the birth in his gospel letter. Joseph, when he found out Mary was pregnant, was going to divorce her quietly because he was “unwilling to put her to shame.” Then an angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, “for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20 ESV). The angel went on to say that all this took place to fulfil what God spoke through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (vs. 23).
This was especially important for Jewish people, because there was a consistent message of God being with people to lead them and provide shelter for them. Isaiah 41:10 says, Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteousness.” Likewise, Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Over and over again the Lord tells the Israelites not to fear because he is with them and will be their helper. Jesus was named Immanuel, which means God with us. God sent his son to become flesh and dwell with man. Jesus lifted those who were weak and weary. He freed the oppressed and bound up the injured. It should not be surprising that the last sentence recorded in Matthew’s gospel is this: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The parallels between the Exodus story and Jesus’s birth and first years are not accidental. Throughout the Bible, and because of God’s throne of righteousness and justice, God cares for what philosopher and theologian Nicolas Wolterstorff dubs “the quartet of vulnerable.” Those include widows, orphans, aliens, and the impoverished. It’s no accident that Jesus was born extremely poor to an unmarried Jewish couple. They were outcasts and had to flee to Egypt to escape death.
King Herod wanted to see Jesus, under the pretense of worshiping him but presumably to kill him. The wise men tricked Herod and an angel warned Joseph to take the child and flee to Egypt. Matthew records: “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:14-15 ESV).
This evoked the whole Egypt experience. Israel was living under oppression with a Pharaoh who wouldn’t let the Israelites go. The last plague required a sacrifice, a slain lambs’ blood to be painted over the door frame. Then God miraculously led the Israelites out of the foreign land of oppression into the Promised Land. God doesn’t just parallel these stories, Christ reenacts the whole Egypt experience.
People waited for the Messiah with anticipation. They longed to be healed. They longed to be freed. The vulnerable quartet of widows, orphans, aliens, and impoverished finally had a redeemer and protector-one who not only could save them, but one who also would.
Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash