FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
December 23, 2007
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
1a. CONTEXT: Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew's infancy narrative is uniquely his own. In it he
forged a narrative which addressed a mixed community of gentile and
jewish christians and so set the stage for a gospel which had a
pluralistic church in mind. This gospel was directed to a converted
community (R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 47) and contained
exhortation and direction for the christian life. There would be some
familiarity with the old testament in Matthew's audience and he makes
good use of a prophecy/fulfillment scheme as he tells his story.
Matthew's particular theme in today's text is to introduce Jesus
and to answer the question "who is He?" It was a question posed by
the post-resurrection church which began to ask christological
questions. Matthew's answer is that Jesus is both Son of David and
Son of God while at the same time son of Mary and Joseph. To answer
these questions Matthew tells the story of Jesus' birth from Joseph's
The genealogical tablein Matthew makes allusions to OT salvation
history: Abraham as father of all nations, Moses and the exodus, and
the exile in Babylon. Jesus' story provides a parallel to these
events. Matthew also makes allusions to other characters in the old
testament stories. In today's text Joseph's reception of information
through his dreams is reminiscent of the old testament Joseph who was
famous for interpretation of dreams.
Joseph as the central character in the birth narrative is
difficult to square with modern assumptions about paternity. Jesus is
Son of David through Joseph even though he was not the biological
father according to Matthew. Matthew's audience would not be caught
in a contradiction between a virgin birth and Joseph's paternity,
however. Jesus is established as Joseph's son through his
acknowledgement (naming). Neither would Matthew's audience be overly
concerned about the "historicity" of the virgin birth. They were
well-accustomed to these claims. Modern readers bring different
questions to the text. The important homiletical task is to help the
modern listener to appreciate the questions the text is sensitive to
while giving adequate attention to the legitimate questions which
arise for modern people and with which they live.
1a. TEXT: Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV/Greek)
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ  took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed  to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
 1:18 Some manuscripts of the Christ
 1:18 That is, legally pledged to be married
18του δε ιησου χριστου η γενεσις ουτως ην. μνηστευθεισης της μητρος αυτου μαριας τω ιωσηφ, πριν η συνελθειν αυτους ευρεθη εν γαστρι εχουσα εκ πνευματος αγιου. 19ιωσηφ δε ο ανηρ αυτης, δικαιος ων και μη θελων αυτην δειγματισαι, εβουληθη λαθρα απολυσαι αυτην. 20ταυτα δε αυτου ενθυμηθεντος ιδου αγγελος κυριου κατ οναρ εφανη αυτω λεγων, ιωσηφ υιος δαυιδ, μη φοβηθης παραλαβειν μαριαν την γυναικα σου, το γαρ εν αυτη γεννηθεν εκ πνευματος εστιν αγιου: 21τεξεται δε υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου ιησουν, αυτος γαρ σωσει τον λαον αυτου απο των αμαρτιων αυτων. 22τουτο δε ολον γεγονεν ινα πληρωθη το ρηθεν υπο κυριου δια του προφητου λεγοντος, 23ιδου η παρθενος εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον, και καλεσουσιν το ονομα αυτου εμμανουηλ, ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον μεθ ημων ο θεος. 24εγερθεις δε ο ιωσηφ απο του υπνου εποιησεν ως προσεταξεν αυτω ο αγγελος κυριου και παρελαβεν την γυναικα αυτου: 25και ουκ εγινωσκεν αυτην εως ου ετεκεν υιον: και εκαλεσεν το ονομα αυτου ιησουν.
2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 1:18-25
Mt. 1:18 - mnesteutheises teis metros autou Marias to Joseph,
prin ei sunelthein autous heurethe en gastri echousa ek pneumatos
agiou - "When Jesus' mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before
they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy
Spirit..." (AILL)- Matthew uses the word for betrothal
(mnesteutheises) which indicates the two-stage process in the typical
marriage of that day. Betrothal was more formal than our engagement
period and some parts of Israel (Judah) even allowed the man martical
rights with the woman (Brown, p. 124). According to Matthew, Joseph
and Mary were somewhere in the middle of the stages between promise
Mt. 1:19 - Joseph de ho aneir auteis dikaios on kai mei thelon autein
deigmatisai, ebouleithe lathra apolusai auten - "Joseph, being just
and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly"
(AILL) - Joseph's uprightness (dikaios) consisted of the fact that
although the law indicated that a man in his position should press
charges of adultery, he chose not to "make a display" (deigmatisai)
of Mary. Joseph took time to ponder his responsibility to the law,
but tempered it with mercy. "Divorce" is perhaps too strong an
translation for at least some modern ears; hence the TEV (Today's
English Translation) preference for "break the engagement." As
above, there is no exact modern equivalent in our vocabulary.
Mt. 1:23 - Idou parthenos en gastri exei kai texetai huion, kai
kalesousin to onoma autou Emmanouel - "Behold a virgin shall conceive
and bear a child, whose name shall be called Emmanuel" (AILL) -
Here Matthew follows the Septuagint as he quotes Isaiah 7:14 but his
wording for conception is unique and agrees with the earlier mention
in l:18 (LXX's" en gastri lepsetai" becomes "en gastri exei.")
The Masoretic text also uses the word "alma" which means "young girl"
and Matthew follows the more narrow rendering of the greek in LXX
and quotes this as "parthenos," or virgin. This is the first instance
of four in which Matthew uses a prophecy/fulfillment formula to
illustrate a particular aspect of the identity of the Christ. His
introductory formula in l:22 ,"All this took place to fulfill what the
Sovereign One had spoken by the prophet," is characteristic of all
four quotations in the infancy narrative. Usually Matthew chooses to
use these quotations to end a particular segment of the narrative.
In this instance, the words from Isaiah are inserted in the middle of
the story. This enables Matthew to conclude the narration of Jesus'
birth with the naming of Jesus on Joseph's lips; l:25b, "and Joseph
named the child Jesus" (AILL). This established Jesus as Joseph's
legal son and ensured his place in the geneological table as a Son of
3. STRATEGY: Matthew 1:18-25
It is no longer enough to ask "What happened?" when one studies
the birth stories in the gospels, writes Paul Minear (Matthew: The
Teacher's Gospel, p. 162). Even though many feel that the truth is
found only in the historical kernel underneath the husk of narrative
embellishment, the preacher assumes the responsibility of conveying
the message that there is another seed of truth in the gospel
proclamation. These stories are a witness to God's majestic act in
coming to the people of every generation and God does not depend on
historians alone to get that message across. Nevertheless is is a
formidable task to transcend the many barriers the modern mind
constructs which make it difficult for the modern person to appreciate
the depth to which the story witnesses to the great act of God in
A focus on Joseph as a parent for Jesus seems to be in keeping
with Matthew's intention in this text. He plays the role of Jewish
witness to the events. He is the one conscious of the law and the
bearer of the Davidic line. His acknowledgement/naming of Jesus as
his legitimate son is paradigmatic for the "people of the law," the
jewish nation. The preacher may speculate on what scruples this man
had to overcome in making his decision. In addition it is important
to give this father credit for playing the parental role as he did. It
is one shortcoming of the church's tradition that Joseph plays such a
4. REFERENCES: Matthew 1:18-25
Brown, Raymond. The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City, NY:
Doubleday - Image Books, 1977.
Minear, Paul S. Matthew: The Teacher's Gospel. New York:
Pilgrim Press, 1982.
Schweitzer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. David
Green, translator. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Matthew 1:18-25
SAVIOR OF THE NATIONS, COME (HB 54, LBW 28) would be an excellent
processional hymn. Sung to the accompaniment of a solo drum with
tambourine, it has a simple insistence to it that is very compelling
for the Advent season. This is something that children could taught
during Advent and then could lead the procession into the service.
COME, THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS (HB 66, LBW 30) is a good hymn of the
day as it sums up the theme of Matthew's Gospel so well. Finally,
two lesser known hymns that might find an application during Advent
might be mentioned: IN A LOWLY MANGER BORN (LBW 417) is a 20th
century Japanese hymn which fits perfectly with a sermon depicting the
place of Joseph in the Nativity. Somewhat less suitable for the
season, yet worth considering for its strong message of reconciliation
and peace in a world of violence is LORD CHRIST, WHEN FIRST YOU CAME
TO EARTH (LBW 421,esp. stanza 3, "New advent of the love...").
Exegete: Dr. Maria Erling
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA
6. FURTHER READING: Matthew 1:18-25
For further study of the "formula quotations" in Matthew, the exegete
may want to look up "Quis et Unde--Who and Whence? Matthew's Christmas
Gospel," chapter 5 in Stendahl, K., Meanings:The Bible as Document and
as Guide (Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 71-83. This brief
article gives a surprisingly thorough analysis of the shape of the
infancy narratives and Matthew's use of the Old Testament and would
serve as in interesting discussion-starter for a group of ministers
preparing for serious exegesis during Advent/Christmas/Epiphany.
Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew
NATIVITY OF OUR LORD
December 24, 2007
Set I - Christmas Eve
Psalm 96 (11)
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
1a. CONTEXT: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Chapters 1 and 2 of Luke's gospel appear to be unnecessary for a
complete telling of the story of Jesus, which begins with John the
Baptist's proclamation in chapter 3. This has led scholars to ask
where chapters 1 and 2 are truly Lucan material, or, if fashioned by
Luke, were they appended after the rest of the gospel was written?
What is perhaps MORE interesting as we consider this particular text
is the fact that chapter 2 is also quite independent of chapter 1.
The story could easily begin with "In those days a decree went
However, while chapter 2 is not dependent upon chapter 1 materials
for coherence, there is nonetheles a significant connection between
the annunciation/birth/naming narratives of John the Baptist and
Jesus contained in these chapters. Parallels abound. It is
therefore especially intriguing that specific references to
Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist are completely missing
from Luke 2.
For our purposes, it is unnecessary to enter the debate of authorship
and sources. There is enough of a connection to the rest of the
gospel in word usage, style, and theological intent to make it seem
likely that one person fashioned all the material for his purposes.
While the independent units are intriguing, their independence is not
what makes them significant. What such independence does allow,
however, is a recognition by virtue of the texts' form that the story
in Luke 2:1-20 can (and does) stand by itself. This is an important
factor to understand as we approach preaching on this familiar and
beloved text. It has, in a sense, a life of its own that must be
respected. Rather than viewing such familiarity as a hindrance to
preaching, we must attempt to use it to enhance the incarnational
message. This story itself is,after all, a kind of miracle; it is
completely familiar and yet still fascinating to us, as is a person
we have loved for a long time.
1a. TEXT: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20) [ESV/Greek]
The Birth of Jesus Christ
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when  Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,  who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
 2:2 Or This was the registration before
 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married
 2:14 Some manuscripts peace, good will among men
1egeneto de en taiV hmeraiV ekeinaiV exhlqen dogma para kaisaroV augoustou apografesqai pasan thn oikoumenhn. 2auth apografh prwth egeneto hgemoneuontoV thV suriaV kurhniou. 3kai eporeuonto panteV apografesqai, ekastoV eiV thn eautou polin. 4anebh de kai iwshf apo thV galilaiaV ek polewV nazareq eiV thn ioudaian eiV polin dauid htiV kaleitai bhqleem, dia to einai auton ex oikou kai patriaV dauid, 5apograyasqai sun mariam th emnhsteumenh autw, oush egkuw. 6egeneto de en tw einai autouV ekei eplhsqhsan ai hmerai tou tekein authn, 7kai eteken ton uion authV ton prwtotokon: kai esparganwsen auton kai aneklinen auton en fatnh, dioti ouk hn autoiV topoV en tw katalumati. 8kai poimeneV hsan en th cwra th auth agraulounteV kai fulassonteV fulakaV thV nuktoV epi thn poimnhn autwn. 9kai aggeloV kuriou epesth autoiV kai doxa kuriou perielamyen autouV, kai efobhqhsan fobon megan. 10kai eipen autoiV o aggeloV, mh fobeisqe, idou gar euaggelizomai umin caran megalhn htiV estai panti tw law, 11oti etecqh umin shmeron swthr oV estin cristoV kurioV en polei dauid: 12kai touto umin to shmeion, eurhsete brefoV esparganwmenon kai keimenon en fatnh. 13kai exaifnhV egeneto sun tw aggelw plhqoV stratiaV ouraniou ainountwn ton qeon kai legontwn, 14doxa en uyistoiV qew kai epi ghV eirhnh en anqrwpoiV eudokiaV. 15kai egeneto wV aphlqon ap autwn eiV ton ouranon oi aggeloi, oi poimeneV elaloun proV allhlouV, dielqwmen dh ewV bhqleem kai idwmen to rhma touto to gegonoV o o kurioV egnwrisen hmin. 16kai hlqan speusanteV kai aneuran thn te mariam kai ton iwshf kai to brefoV keimenon en th fatnh: 17idonteV de egnwrisan peri tou rhmatoV tou lalhqentoV autoiV peri tou paidiou toutou. 18kai panteV oi akousanteV eqaumasan peri twn lalhqentwn upo twn poimenwn proV autouV: 19h de mariam panta sunethrei ta rhmata tauta sumballousa en th kardia authV. 20kai upestreyan oi poimeneV doxazonteV kai ainounteV ton qeon epi pasin oiV hkousan kai eidon kaqwV elalhqh proV autouV.
2. ANALYSIS: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Lk. 2:1-2 - apographesthai pasan ten oikoumenen - " that all the
world should be enrolled" (AILL) - Despite numerous attempts to
preserve Luke's historical accuracy, no evidence of a census either
during the reign of Caesar August or of Quirinius under Herod the
Great exists. Luke appears to have used the census as a literary
device not only to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (where tradition
held that Jesus was born) but also to make some important theological
points. See Brown, Birth of the Messiah, pp. 412-18, for an
illuminating discussion. Brown suggests that a subtle contrast is
being set up between the Roman emperor (also called "savior of the
world" and "son of God") who ordered the census and this infant, the
true savior. Also, it is an appropriate moment to present the birth
of Jesus, "the savior of all those people who are being enrolled"
(Brown, p. 415).
2:4 - polin David neis kaleitai Bethleem - "to the city of
David,which is called Bethlehem" (AILL) - While Jerusalem usually
bears the appellation of "City of David," Bethlehem was David's
birthplace and where he spent his boyhood as a shepherd (I Samuel
16:11). This sets the stage both for Jesus as the Messiah ("A king
like David") and for the shepherds who receive the heavenly news of
Jesus' birth. It is as if David, the great king who was a shepherd
boy, hastens with the other shepherds to the manger in order to
worship the newborn Christ.
2:7 - A packed verse, and the source of much of our Christmas piety
(i.e., the heartless innkeeper, the stable, the friendly beasts, the
poverty of Jesus). Yet it is remarkably short and understated. Much
is left unsaid. This,too, may be a hint for Christmas preachers
--seek brevity and simplicity on this occasion.
2:8 - kai phulassontes phulakas tes nuktos epi ten poimnen auton -
"keeping watch over their flock by night" (AILL) - The angels appear
to those "keeping watch," who are awake to hear and see.
2:10 - evangellizomai humin charan megalen,hetis estai panti to lao -
"I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the
people" (AILL) - The angels' message to the shepherds forms the
centerpiece of the story. It makes public the announcement made to
Mary (1:26-38), and it is characteristic of Luke that such a
revelation would be made to shepherds, some of the "lowly" (1:38,52).
This is an exuberant cry: good news, great joy, coming to all people.
2:11 - hoti etechthen humin - To you is born. To all the people, but
also to you. - soter - Savior, the first title of Jesus (cf. 1:47,
69). Only used by Luke among the synoptics. - Christos kyrios -
"Christ (Messiah),Lord." More common would have been "The Lord's
Christ" (Christos kyriou,v. 26). Luke is the only synoptic writer to
use "Lord" as a favorite title for Jesus (14 times). The others use
it once each. "Lord" and "Christ" as titles appear also in Acts
2:14 - doxa en hupsistois theo kai epi ges eirene en anthropois
eudokias -"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among
those with whom God is pleased" (AILL) - A difficult construction
that is probably chiastic and should be rendered in two verses rather
than three (see Fitzmyer ,Anchor Bible vol. 28, pp. 410-12).
Fitzmyer, in basic agreement with Brown, translates it:
Glory in highest heaven to God;
and on earth peace for people whom he [God] favors.
A helpful discussion of the genitive eudokias (good pleasure, favor)
appears in both Fitzmyer and Brown.
2:19 - tauta sumballousa en tei charois autes -"pondering them in her
heart" (AILL) - "Tossing them together in her heart" (Fitzmyer) - a
sense of remembering and trying to find the correct meaning (Genesis
3. STRATEGY: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
The Christmas sermon is probably the least important sermon of the
year, for so much is carried by the "simple" story itself, the
beloved carols, and the air of expectation among the worshippers, who
come already anticipating that they will experience something special
during that hour of worship. The sermon must fit--simply--into that
joy and expectation, but it can in great measure depend for its
impact upon the reading of the Lucan Christmas story, the singing of
the carols, and even upon the glow of the candles and the viewing of
the creche. The story and the carols touch something deep within us
and can even stand without comment, for which we have evidence in the
moving and popular Anglican tradition of "Lessons and Carols."
This does not, however, mean that less care and craft need go into
the Christmas sermon preparation. Rather, it is a recognition that
the sermon is of a different order and role than in the more usual
One may wish to preach this text differently depending upon whether
the service is being held Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. On
Christmas Eve there is a sense of quiet joy, wonder, thanks, and
praise that permeates the worship; often the church is darkened and
candlelight is the light by which we see this mystery unfold. On
Christmas Day it is "the morning after," when the implications of
this event need to be considered in the clear, cold light of day. It
is akin to the "What now?" that a new parent feels the morning after
the arrival of a child. "This is going to change my life," he or she
realizes. "I haven't an inkling of what it's really going to mean;
but there's no turning back now." Mary keeping all these things and
pondering them in her heart would be a good entree into the sermon
for Christmas Day. It implies an ongoing unfolding of meaning, in
process, understood bit by bit, which is a way of speaking with some
insight about an oft-repeated and familiar text and occasion.
Another possible focus (for either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day)
would be the angel's announcement to the shepherds. This is central
to Luke's birth narrative and also gives us much to consider
regarding who Jesus is and the extent of his Messiahship. (See also
the annunciation to Mary, Luke 1:26-38). Use the hymns ANGELS FROM
THE REALMS OF GLORY and ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH surrounding the
sermon. (In general, stay away from unfamiliar Christmas hymns for
the congregation, no matter how lovely they may be. And if you forget
to sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve, that will be all that anyone
remembers about the service.)
One would assume that the celebration of the Eucharist would be part
of any Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship. It manifests in
sight, smell, touch, and taste the reality of the Incarnation--of
Christ coming in the flesh, taking on body and blood.
4. OTHER RESOURCES: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Martin Luther's Christmas Sermons. Luther preached on the Christmas
texts (John 1:1-14 and Luke 2:1-20) over 60 times in his life; for
example, in 1530 he preached five different Christmas sermons on Luke
2:1-20. The late Roland Bainton's brief anthology (below) is a fine
resource,as is Bainton's audio tape of some excerpts, available from
the Visual Educ. Svce., Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St., New
Haven, CT 06511; otherwise, Luther's sermons can be found in several
volumes of Luther's Works, a 56-volume set published by Concordia
Publishing House (St. Louis) and Fortress Press (Philadelphia). An
index volume has recently appeared.
5. REFERENCES: Christmastide
Bainton, Roland H. The Martin Luther Christmas Book. Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1948.
Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the
Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Garden City,NY:
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke I-IX. Anchor Bible
Series, vol. 28. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.
Exegetes: The Revs. Susan P. and Michael P. Thomas are Pastors of
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Hanover, NH.
©2007 TISCHREDE SOFTWARE