“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way….”
Matthew’s Gospel gives us the stripped down version of a nativity story – “Just the facts, m’am.” In Matthew, we hear none of the glory and pageantry of Luke’s story, full of angels, shepherds, lovely songs, a stable, animals, and a manger. Luke’s story belongs to the women – Mary is central, but her cousin Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist) also plays a part.
Matthew’s story is more masculine, and more muscular. Joseph leads the way, guided by dreams from God. Jesus is born in Joseph’s house in Bethlehem. It is Joseph who names the child “Jesus,” which means “God saves.” In Matthew’s account, it’s the Wise Men who visit the babe, not the scruffy shepherds.
But the core of the story remains: a most unlikely birth takes place in Bethlehem, an insignificant town in a backward province of the Roman Empire…and God is behind it all. This child will be the means, the instrument, of God’s saving grace in a trouble world. It was true then, and it is still true now.
And Matthew tells us that Jesus will be sought after, for good and for ill. The Wise Men (or Magi) will come from foreign lands to worship him. King Herod will seek Jesus to exterminate him, a potential rival for Jewish allegiance. That also remains true today. Some seek Jesus to learn of his grace and forgiveness. Others despise him because he does not conform to the world’s view of “greatness” or “power.” As the Feast of the Nativity approaches, we are asked to choose how we ourselves will receive this child of God. JBM