Networked Blogs on Facebook

Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

+ Advent 4 + CHRISTMAS EVE +

Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew


December 19, 2010
Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that hinders our faith, that eagerly we may receive your promises, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. The virgin shall conceive and | bear a son,
and they shall name | him Emmanuel. Alleluia. (Matt. 1:23)


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 [1] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed [2] 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] 1:18 Some manuscripts of the Christ

[2] 1:18 That is, legally pledged to be married


18tou de ihsou cristou h genesiV outwV hn. mnhsteuqeishV thV mhtroV autou mariaV tw iwshf, prin h sunelqein autouV eureqh en gastri ecousa ek pneumatoV agiou. 19iwshf de o anhr authV, dikaioV wn kai mh qelwn authn deigmatisai, eboulhqh laqra apolusai authn. 20tauta de autou enqumhqentoV idou aggeloV kuriou kat onar efanh autw legwn, iwshf uioV dauid, mh fobhqhV paralabein marian thn gunaika sou, to gar en auth gennhqen ek pneumatoV estin agiou: 21texetai de uion kai kaleseiV to onoma autou ihsoun, autoV gar swsei ton laon autou apo twn amartiwn autwn. 22touto de olon gegonen ina plhrwqh to rhqen upo kuriou dia tou profhtou legontoV, 23idou h parqenoV en gastri exei kai texetai uion, kai kalesousin to onoma autou emmanouhl, o estin meqermhneuomenon meq hmwn o qeoV. 24egerqeiV de o iwshf apo tou upnou epoihsen wV prosetaxen autw o aggeloV kuriou kai parelaben thn gunaika autou: 25kai ouk eginwsken authn ewV ou eteken uion: kai ekalesen to onoma autou ihsoun.

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

and cohabitation.

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

cameo role.

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 detailed, meticulous 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



December 24, 2010
Set I – Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96 (11)
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus' presence and in the last day wake to the rightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. I am bringing you good news of great joy for | all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messi- | ah, the Lord. Alleluia. (Luke 2:10-11)

Color: White

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 [1] 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, [2] 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!” [3]

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.


[1] 2:2 Or This was the registration before

[2] 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married

[3] 2:14 Some manuscripts peace, good will among men

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


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:

Doubleday, 1977.

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.

[ ]




Dartmouth, MA 02747


No comments: