Fourth Sunday of Advent, 24th December 2023

Matthew 1:1–25

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil 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.’” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

Commentary

Matthew begins his gospel in a typical Hebrew fashion by giving the genealogical table of Jesus, who was born of Mary. He does not mention the Annunciation, nor Mary’s problem of preserving virginity while becoming a mother. However, the revelation was given to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, which Matthew here describes, brings out the fact of the virginal conception of Jesus, and his messianic mission of salvation. Matthew then adds that Christ was the Messiah, to be born of a virgin, of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, seven centuries earlier.

If God had preserved the kingdom of Judah, and if the Messiah, the son of David, were to be born in the royal palace in Jerusalem, it would be natural and we would almost say, more fitting the dignity of the Messiah. Instead, God allowed the kingly line, and he throne of Judah, to disappear, and he chose a humble carpenter of Nazareth, a true descendant of David but a lowly one, to the foster father of his divine Son, when he took human nature and came on earth to dwell among us. But God’s ways are not our ways. It is not by their social standing, nor by their banking accounts, that God values men. Virtue is the scale he uses when weighting men. In God’s eyes, no king sat on the throne of Judah, not even David himself, who was more acceptable to God as foster father for his Son, than the carpenter of Nazareth.

This is the last Sunday of our preparation for Christmas, the anniversary of Christ’s birth. Like Joseph we can all feel unworthy of the honour of welcoming him into our hearts and our homes. We are indeed unworthy, not because we have little of this world’s goods, but because we have so little humility, so little charity, so little faith and trust in God’s goodness.

Let us try to imitate Joseph and Mary, the humblest of the humble, the kindliest of the kindly, and the greatest ever believers in God’s goodness and mercy. We can never hope to equal them, but we can follow them humbly, from afar.

The feast of Christmas should draw the hearts of every child of God towards the furnace of divine love. In the manger, the infinite love of God for us miserable sinners is dramatically and forcefully portrayed before our eyes. In the helpless baby, represented a statue, we know that the person, and the power, of the omnipotent Creator and sustainer of the universe lie hidden “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” for us. He became a creature like ourselves, so that he would make us sharers in his divine nature. He came on earth to bring us to heaven. He hid his divine nature so that he could cover us with it.

“Unsearchable indeed are the judgment of God, and inscrutable his ways” as St Paul say to the Romans (11:33). But though we are unworthy of his infinite love, it nevertheless stands out as clear as the noon-day sun in the Incarnation. We realize that we can never make ourselves worthy of his infinite love, but let us imitate Joseph and accept the honour which is giving us, as we trust that he will continue to make us daily less unworthy. Amen.