18 This was how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit.
19 Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately.
20 While he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived.
21 She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus – because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 Now all this happened in order to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true,
23 “A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”).
24 So when Joseph woke up, he married Mary, as the angel of the Lord had told him to do.
Other readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24:1-6, 7, 10; Romans 1:1-7
We are now in the days leading up to Jesus’s birth. In the preceding verses, Matthew has set out Jesus’s lineage through King David, right back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. God promised Abraham that through his descendants God would bless the whole human race (Genesis 12:2-3).
We are familiar with Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel as told in Luke 1:26-38, but Matthew just chooses to say that “she found out she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit”.
Matthew focuses instead on Joseph’s angelic encounter. Joseph is engaged to be married but his fiancée Mary has told him she is pregnant. He knows he is not the father and so is planning to break off the engagement. At that time in Jewish society an engagement was legally binding; it could only be broken by a formal act of divorce.
Joseph clearly cares for Mary and wants to end the engagement privately to minimise the disgrace to her. While he is thinking about this an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him not to be afraid to marry Mary. The angel confirms to Joseph what Gabriel had told Mary – that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, would be a son and they should name him Jesus.
Jesus was a popular boy’s name at the time, which in Hebrew means “the Lord saves”. It reminded people of their great ancestor Joshua (whose name had the same meaning) who led the Israelites out of exile in the wilderness and into the promised land after the death of Moses. But, the angel adds, this “Joshua’ will save people in a very specific way, not from physical exile but from “their sins”.
Matthew interprets these events as a direct fulfilment of God’s promise in Isaiah 7:14 to send Immanuel, “God is with us”. So this baby not only has an ordinary everyday name but another very special name given to no one else.
Joseph, like Mary in the Gospel of Luke, believes and acts on what the angel tells him and they get married. After the birth of their baby, it is Joseph who names him Jesus. In doing so he identifies himself as Jesus’s legal “father” and, as a descendant of King David, he gives him royal lineage.
Joseph faithfully plays his part along with Mary in God’s salvation plan. He helps provide a home for Jesus to grow up in before he fulfils his mission on earth.
Think about Joseph. How must he have felt when Mary told him an angel had told her she would be the mother of God’s son? Or that she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit?
What lessons can you draw from Joseph’s willingness to act quickly when he knew what God wanted him to do?
Jesus came to save people from their sins. What does this mean for you?
God gives grace and strength to cope in impossible situations. Where and when has he helped you?
Read over today’s verses from Psalm 24 several times. Use them to bring your praise to the great king.
God promised to send a Messiah to save his people. Think about his faithfulness. Marvel that Jesus came to earth as Immanuel, “God is with us”. What does this mean for you?
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