This is the fourth in a series of reflections on Matthew 1:16-25.
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:22-23 (NRSV)
When I read about Jesus in the Gospels, many stories result in Jesus releasing the person from shame. There was the wedding where the wine ran out (John 2), healing a bleeding woman (Matthew 9), clarifying a women’s misunderstood gift (Mark 14), eating with those others wouldn’t eat with (Luke 7), and bringing salvation to the home of a tax collector (Luke 19). But when I read Matthew 1 – and the aftermath in the second chapter – I wonder about this good news that is being fulfilled in Jesus’ birth.
I can spiritualize the joyous gift Mary and Joseph received by raising Jesus. They spent more time with him than anyone else while he was here on earth. Jesus probably did many cute things and loved his parents. But I think this is overlooking the reality of the situation.
We celebrate the fulfilling of the prophet’s words in Jesus’ birth – as we should. Emmanuel, God with us, is a miracle second to none (although the resurrection is a close second). But this “fulfilling” made a tough road for Mary and Joseph. And it didn’t really get any easier.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:18 (NRSV)
If “but before they lived together” never happened, it would be a nice story about a young couple and their first child. But instead, it’s a story of a girl who gets pregnant when she’s engaged to someone else. It’s a story of a man, humiliated, choosing to accept the woman and her child (can you imagine what his friends and family said). And they do all of this because angels told them to.
But this isn’t the worst of it. Their scandal impacts others. As Matthew tells it, there was a slaughter of innocents as a result (2:16). There must have been many in Nazareth and Jerusalem that did not think this fulfilling of the prophet’s words was good news.
But it was.
The shame, scandal, abuse of power, and senseless death that greeted the birth of Jesus already existed in the world. They still exist today. I think it is appropriate that these evils of the world surrounded the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom into the world. The incarnation is God with us in all of the difficulties and nastiness of life. It is the Light the darkness cannot overcome.
Shame and death weren’t necessary for the incarnation to occur – but they are why we needed God with us. And why we need God with us still. The incarnation is the fulfillment of a promise. And it is still being fulfilled today.