By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus – because he will save his people from their sins”. — Matthew 1:21
The story of Jesus’ birth recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 is one of the most controversial texts in the Scriptures. But I do not intend to deal with its controversial aspects and much more its mystical elements. What I would like to stress in the writer’s assertion that Jesus’ birth and the things that happened surrounding his birth and growing years have something to do with his becoming the savior of his people.
In other words, Jesus did not simply crop up mystically in the historical horizon and began claiming to be the Messiah. Instead, like anyone of us, he also went through the painful process of being born into this world, and of growing up from childhood into the kind of person he was meant to be.
Born of King David’s lineage
There are at least three things mentioned in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth that contributed somehow to the personal development of the man Jesus to become the savior of his people and of humankind. First of all, the story tells us that Jesus was born into a family, whose father Joseph was a descendant of King David.
For the Jews at the time, genealogy was very important. A person’s character and social status was judged to a large extent in terms of the purity of his lineage. If a person, for instance, had the slightest mixture of a foreign blood, he would lose his right to be a pure Jew and a member of the community of God’s people. I’m sure, even today we still judge a person’s character and values by looking into his family background.
The Jews firmly believed that the coming Messiah must come from King David’s descendants. King David was claimed to be Israel’s greatest king. For it was during his reign that Israel’s 12 tribes were united into one kingdom, their territories were expanded, and Israel was recognized as a nation among others in the Near Eastern world.
By citing Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew the Gospel writer was actually trying to show that Jesus indeed was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for, because he was the son of Joseph, a descendant of King David.
Aside from being King David’s descendant, Joseph had another important description. The story says that he was “a man who always did what was right” (v.19). In other words, Joseph was a righteous person. Jesus, indeed, was fortunate to have a righteous father. Certainly, such righteousness of a father had helped a lot in shaping Jesus’ values and character as he grew up in years to become a servant of his people.
With the way our economy is going, we may not be able to give enough material inheritance to our children. But then, I do believe that the best inheritance we could offer to our children, far more precious than the purest of gold, is to live a righteous life, something which our children could emulate as they grow up in years. If all the other instruments of value formation in our society today have failed or lost their moral credibility, let not the family abdicate its divine responsibility as our society’s character-building unit.
Born of the Holy Spirit
Moreover, the Biblical story also says that Jesus was conceived and born of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s creative power. He gives life to each one of us and to the whole of God’s creation.
Matthew the Gospel writer proclaims that Mary and Joseph believed that their son Jesus was not merely conceived and born of human flesh, but that he was primarily conceived and born of the Holy Spirit. This would mean that human life is God’s gift. Hence, we must enter life and live our lives with deep trust and faith in the Living God, the Giver and Sustainer of life.
How I wish that each one of us who are parents or would-be parents would also have the same conviction that Mary and Joseph had. That our sons and daughters are not only of our own making, but that they are indeed conceived and born of the Holy Spirit. This would mean that to be a father or mother is not merely a social or civil status, but a divine responsibility. That we are not only participating in God’s creative power of bringing life into this world, but also of nurturing that life and of making it more meaningful and significant.
Born to save his people
Finally, Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth also says that Jesus was named Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins” (v.21). The name Jesus is the Greek rendition of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means God is salvation or God saves.
A name, for the Jews, is very important. They don’t just name their sons or daughters with those taken from religious calendars and books, or names adapted from the West which are high-sounding and difficult to pronounce, or names coined from the parents’ names, like some of us are doing. Before giving names, they would ask themselves first what their dreams and visions would be for their babies. And out of these dreams and visions, they would now give a name.
For the Jews, the name carries with it the meaning and purpose of the life of the person being named. Hence, Jesus was named Jesus, because Mary and Joseph were dreaming and envisioning that their son will grow up to be the Savior of Israel. And they believed that this was God’s will and purpose for their son.
Certainly, we, who are parents and would-be parents, have also dreams and visions for our sons and daughters. However, most often than not our dreams and visions are quite selfish. Some, for instance, have given birth to children, because they wanted to have someone to take care for themselves when they will be old. Others would like that their children will grow up to fulfill their unfulfilled ambitions in life. And still others think that their only purpose in giving birth to children is to obey God’s command to “go and multiply”. And they multiply a lot, indeed!
We seldom have parents whose dreams and visions for their sons and daughters are like that of Mary and Joseph, who named their son Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins”.
Christmas season can be a time for us to hope and dream for our sons and daughters, but let not the dreams and visions of Mary and Joseph for their son Jesus escape our hearts and minds. Let us dream and hope that, like Jesus, our sons and daughters will also someday participate in God’s saving act in history in bringing peace on earth and good will to all people. Amen. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! # nordis.net