Taking Advent on Its Own Terms (4 of 4)

Subtitle: The Meaning of Christmas

A meditation for the fourth week of Advent based on Matthew 1.18-25

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Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way…

So, St. Matthew, the evangelist, begins his account of Jesus’ nativity. And I’m almost tempted to write, “We know what happened!” (which would make this a short, very short blog post!).

For, doubtless, countless times Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth has been read and heard. We also know how babies are born. So, we know the way, whether biblically or biologically, by which the birth of Jesus took place. So, again, I’m tempted simply to write that and be done.

Almost!

For the point of Matthew’s story isn’t about the mechanics of Jesus’ birth. Nor is it about the logistics – who, where, when, and how – despite the evangelist’s details about Mary and Joseph, their betrothal, a cosmic intervention and spiritual impregnation, Joseph’s determination to divorce Mary, which prompted the angelic declaration: “Not so fast, Joseph!”

An Angel appears to Joseph in a dream; woodcut (artist unknown) from the illustrated book, Half Hours with the Bible (1890)

The point of Matthew’s story is what the birth of Jesus means; that is, the sense about human existence to which this birth points. For if Jesus’ birth doesn’t connect to this life, human life, then, truly, we can say that we don’t know what happened, and, therefore, we can ask, we should ask: What does it matter?

Matthew sums up the meaning with six words about the child Mary would bear, spoken to Joseph in a dream: “You are to name him Jesus.”

Jesus. From the Hebrew Yēšûa or Joshua, each meaning declaratively, “Yahweh (God) helps,” or prayerfully, “O God, help!”

For Matthew, the birth of Jesus was a sign that God’s help had come, entering earthly time and space. That God’s healing (from the Latin, salvus, which is the same root from which we derive the word, salvation) had taken flesh in human history to save us from our sins, our brokenness, our spiritual dis-ease.

This, for Matthew, help, hope, healing, salvation, is the meaning of the birth of Jesus.

If this is at all true, then, this is the meaning of the lives and labors of all who follow Jesus. To be, as Jesus, embodiments of love and justice. So, to be living, daily demonstrations of what unconditional benevolence and justice look like, are like.

 

Illustration: An Angel appears to Joseph in a dream; woodcut (artist unknown) from the illustrated book, Half Hours with the Bible (1890)

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