Networked Blogs on Facebook

Search This Blog

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent 4 •  Dec. 18, 2011

Lexegete™    |    Year A   |  Matthew
Fourth Sunday of Advent  •  December 18, 2011
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 (1)
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Here I am, the servant | of the Lord;
 let it be with me according | to your word. Alleluia. (Luke 1:38)

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 table in 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   © 2011 
Dartmouth,  MA   02747


No comments: