You will be familiar with how Matthew’s gospel begins – with the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, from Abraham all the way down the generations to Joseph. Having established the genealogy, Matthew’s gospel immediately launches into the account of Jesus’ birth which we hear in today’s Gospel reading.
We are told how the angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream saying “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21
This isn’t the first time that the Bible tells us of an angel appearing to the people of God. You may remember from other Gospel accounts how we are told how the angel of the Lord – in this case Gabriel – appeared to Zechariah, and also to Jesus’ mother Mary herself. In today’s Gospel account, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
I wonder how we might react if an angel appeared before us. Would we, like Zechariah, be terrified and overwhelmed with fear? Would we be perplexed by his words as Mary was? Mary may well have thought “Why on earth is he calling me a ‘favoured one’?” or “What does he mean by saying ‘The Lord is with you’?” Joseph’s reaction and response was simply obedience. That suggests to me that Joseph was a decent, honest man and a person of faith and integrity.
It was certainly a miracle that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth might conceive – she was barren and both she and Zechariah were both “getting on in years.” But we are told of similar occurrences in the Old Testament. But perhaps what was all the more miraculous was that Mary might conceive – she was after all a virgin. Such a miracle was unprecedented; and I would argue unique to Christianity.
If Mary was perplexed by Gabriel’s greeting, imagine how she must have felt when he then went on to tell her that she would conceive a son, and not just any son, but one who would be great, and called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God would give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there would be no end. For the Jewish readers of such an account that is truly staggering, and their deep hopes for the Messiah to come would certainly have been rekindled. In looking again at the genealogy of Jesus though, we see how he was indeed a descendent of King David through both Joseph and Mary.
Imagine how Joseph must have felt to be told that his wife to be was pregnant and that what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, and then to be told “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Every encounter we might have with God calls for a response. In the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth their response was to take the initiative and pray for a child. In Mary’s case, it was God who took the initiative and Mary responded with tremendous faith “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
And in our reading today, God again took the initiative and Joseph responded. He had a change of heart and when he woke up, he “did what the angel of the LORD had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 1:24 Joseph doesn’t tend to get much air-time, but we shouldn’t lose sight of his faithfulness to God and his willingness to buck the trend of society and culture in making Mary – who was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his – his wife.
We are coming up to Christmas; it is a time when our attentions are drawn to the birth of Jesus and the significance of his coming. It is also a time when we are invited to encounter God in a fresh and new way. We are invited to come before him, with awe and wonder like the shepherds and subsequently the wise men. We are invited to come before him in quiet obedience like Joseph too.We are invited to bring before him our hopes and fears for what the next year might have in store for us. We are invited to respond. I think that God is always seeking to break through, always sending of himself, always inviting us to be in relationship with him.
Remember the miracle that began over 2,000 years ago, the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ, a miracle that was foretold centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah. It should astonish us even now. Perhaps it is human nature for us to want to see a sign; how many signs do we need to see before we believe? On our journey through the season of Advent we have been reminded how God sent the patriarchs, those great people of faith – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; then he sent the prophets, then he sent John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, then he sent himself. The signs have been there plain for us to see – if only we would open our eyes. We should never lose sight of the enormity and significance of Immanuel – God with us. Let Mary’s response be our response to God today… “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Let Joseph’s action be ours today – that we too are obedient to God’s call on our life. Amen