This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.
The purpose behind Matthew’s Gospel account is to relate the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth and how it fulfils venerable prophecy. Matthew’s Gospel opens with the details of Jesus’ genealogy. This passage serves to complete this genealogy and highlight that Jesus truly was a descendant of David. Both Mary and Joseph were from the town of Bethlehem, i.e. the House of David.
According to the common opinion of ancient Fathers and theologians of the Church, Mary and Joseph were espoused as the first stage to being formally married. During the time of espousal, the future husband and wife did not live together and saw each other but rarely; they could, however, have sexual intercourse, and any child conceived during this period was not illegitimate, either in public opinion or before the Law. If any one violated another’s spouse they were regarded as an adulterer.
Tradition tells us that from the very beginning of their espousal Mary and Joseph had agreed to make a vow of perpetual virginity, hence Joseph’s shock at discovering that Mary was with child. According to the Law, Mary was liable to be stoned to death. However, Joseph lacked the necessary two witnesses required under the Law. In any case, Joseph preferred to spare Mary any such indignity.
Joseph received comfort from the Angel of the Lord (Gabriel) that the conception of the child in Mary’s womb was due to the Holy Spirit. This is the so-called ‘virgin birth’, or ‘incarnation’ of the Son of God, is evidenced in verses 18, 20, 23 and 25 in this same chapter. ‘Incarnation’ means ‘to take flesh.’ Matthew goes on to make the point that Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit fulfils the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.
The angel assures Joseph that he can take Mary home as his wife and for the expectant child, “you must name him Jesus”: The name ‘Jesus’, which in Hebrew was ‘Yeshu’, means ‘Yahweh saves’, or ‘Salvation of God’ and originates from the name Joshua.
Exclusive to Matthew’s Gospel account is the term ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God with us’ a reminder that this event was the fulfillment of Scripture (Isaiah 7:14). O Come Emmanuel.
Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation