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They Shall Call Him Emmanuel

Advent 4     Year A

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholoic.org.nz

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St. Matthew 1: 18 — 25

 

Introduction

Our text brings us finally to what we have been preparing for. The opening line is:

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”

But actually, it is not so much about the birth of Jesus as about:

a)     His being born to the most “righteous” of Parents;
b)     how His name is an example of how He fulfils prophecy.

For those not familiar with Jewish custom, let’s recall that:

•       In Jewish marriages, there were two ceremonies,

+    First: the contract is made, and the man pays the father    
       of the bride (who is then betrothed).

+    Second: the man brings his wife home to live together.

•        The time span between them was a year. During this time
          they rarely met.

St. Matthew begins his story during this time of betrothal.

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Some Reflections On Our Text

Verses 18 and 19

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but
before they lived together, she was found with child
through the holy Spirit.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce
her quietly.

In our story just before the couple do finally came together Joseph (a young man in his early 20’s) hears of his wife’s condition.

He is a “righteous man”:

i.e. a law-abiding man, meaning he wants to keep faith with the
Biblical laws God laid down as a pathway for His People.

But he is also an honest and fair man. He decides to divorce her privately with only 2 witnesses.

This would safeguard her name and avoid legal action for Mary could be charged with adultery. The penalty, although rarely invoked at that time, was death.

This idea of being righteous is one of the most important in the whole of Sacred Scripture. It is absolutely essential to know what it means and what it teaches us. We need, therefore, to remember the most important statement God gave the People Israel through Moses at Sinai:

“Listen then Israel; there is no Lord but the Lord our God.”
                                                                            
Deuteronomy 6: 4 (Knox)

This is followed by the commandment to love God with every part of their being. Immediately after that God commanded His People Israel to keep His commands written on their heart, to teach them to their children, to think of them frequently, at home, when resting or travelling. And further, they were to surround themselves with these words of God attached to their body, the door-ways of their home and even the gate posts. 

Thus God commanded His people to abide (dwell) in the midst of His Proclaimed Word, and to ensure that His Divine Word likewise remained abiding in their hearts and minds at all times. This is what law-abiding originally meant: mutual in-dwelling and not just compliance.

Even the word Law must be correctly understood as Words of God, or Teaching of God rather than just legislation in the modern sense of the term. Our contemporary understanding of “law” codifies the minimal level of compliance which is acceptable.

The Biblical understanding is thus quite different: it is God’s spoken instruction to His beloved people and calls for the highest level of loving response possible.

In our Gospel account Joseph is presented as an outstanding example of the living Presence of God’s Word in the human heart. He is thus an honest and fair man who therefore, in the circumstances, decides to divorce Mary privately, with only two witnesses.

This would safeguard her name and avoid legal action, for Mary could be charged with adultery. The penalty, although rarely invoked at that time, was death.

Verse 20

Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord 
appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been
conceived in her.

Joseph thought about all this rather carefully.

Only after he had considered this action did the Angel appear in a dream. The angel begins, “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home”. It seems Joseph had wanted to complete the marriage by doing this, but was afraid to.

Verses 20b and 21

For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been
conceived in her.

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because
he will save his people from their sins.”

The following message is quite clear. He is to give Mary both the shelter of his home and the protection of his name. Clearly Joseph believes the angel:

•    that Mary’s conceiving a child was brought about by the Holy Spirit;

•    that he was to name the boy Yeshua (Hebrew, not Aramaic as was
formerly understood): a fairly common name but not without prophetic
significance ( a form of Joshua), derived from the verb meaning
to rescue or deliver.

Why he should be called Joshua (or Jesus) is therefore understood:

“because he will save his people from their sins.”

Verses 22 — 24

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through
the prophet: 

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and
they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had
commanded him and took his wife into his home.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet
Isaiah                                                                                (See Isaiah 7: 14).

Is it not a bit strange that Isaiah should prophesy, “they will call him Emmanuel” and yet the Angel directs Joseph to call him Joshua (Yeshua)? — Not when we realise each was to emphasise functions of equal importance. The name “Jesus” tells us who He is. The title “Emmanuel” tells us what He is; if we may risk over simplifying the situation.

Remember, Isaiah had prophesied:

“They shall call him Emmanuel — that is — God-is-with-us.”

•    In prophecy the term contained an idea of prosperity because
God would be favourable to his people: i.e. with them and not
against them.

•    So the prophetic name did not just mean being with us in the
sense of being present to us, or within us.

•    It contained the sense of accompanying us on our journey
as we
fight against evil. Through the Angel, God gave his
Son the name Yeshua or Joshua (Biblical Hebrew) or Jesus
(Greek New Testament). This is especially important:

“because he will save his people from their sins”.

•    Not save them from other people’s sins nor from the outcome of
their own sins. But from the sins themselves.

•    Yeshua — “Yahweh Saves” is the fulfilment of the promise of God
to the patriarchs and prophets — I shall be with you — not just
within and present but actively engaged with you in your fight
against sin.

•     How appropriate it is then for Jesus’ final words in this Gospel
to be, “Lo, I am with you always”.                           (Mastthew 20: 20)

Verse 25

He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and
he named him Jesus.

The reading concludes with an emphatic reminder that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The reading, as explained in the introduction, is primarily about his origin. Verse 25 should not be used to argue about whether or not Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The Greek version of the verse simply will not support the argument either way. For that we rely on the teaching of the Church which draws from the whole spectrum of revelation.

 

Further Reading

“A Reflection On the Divinity of the Messiah”

 

Conclusion

Joseph was shocked to find that before Jewish custom permitted him to live with his betrothed wife, he discovered her to be already pregnant. With great kindness and consideration for her, he prepares to terminate their relationship in a way to cause least harm to anyone’s reputation.

Thus, after St. Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of our Lord, through his foster-father, he immediately focuses attention on Joseph as a “righteous man”. To be “righteous” in the Hebrew, Biblical sense, is to be someone who cherishes above all else the Torah, the Teaching of God in the Scriptures. Joseph is a man who knows the Sacred Scriptures well, and models his life on God’s every Commandment or expressed another way follows carefully the path laid down for us in Scripture by God Himself.

The Blessed Virgin Mary had already yielded her will to God when the Archangel Gabriel brought God’s personal message to her: “Let it be done to me according to your word” (meaning, according to the word you bring direct from God).

Both Mary and Joseph are thus totally conformed to the Will of God. This is the purest of righteousness, and is the foundation upon which God began to unfold His plan for our salvation and from which He continues to reach out to all mankind. These two righteous people are given to us as God’s chosen models for us to emulate as we take our part in His Divine Plan.

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Advent 4 ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how you
can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

 

They Shall Call Him Emmanuel

Advent 4     Year A          St. Matthew 1: 18 — 25

1     As is often pointed out, the Angel called the Messiah-to-be-born,
       “Emmanuel”; That is “God With Us”. He used this, not so much as
       a personal name, as a title recognising a special role; (The ancient
       Sages taught that the Emmanuel would accompany those dedicated
       to following Him, and guide, protect and nurture them.)

2     The title, “Emmanuel” fits beautifully into the unique presence of two
       thoroughly righteous parents; since the essence of Biblical
       righteousness is the continuous abiding of Torah — God’s Word or
       Teaching in the Sacred Scriptures — in their hearts and souls. So
       there is a Divine Presence manifested in each member of the Holy
       Family. As members of God’s Household, we too can be receptacles
       of this same Divine Presence, and foster it with our love for learning
       from His Divine Torah — His Divine Word and Holy Church.

3     In our role to be, “a light to the nations”, we will perform that role
       when we, like Mary and Joseph, are truly righteous: when the Word
       abides in us and we in the Word. Only then will we remain on the path
       laid down by God, and taught in all its fullness by His Son, Jesus the
       Messiah sent for our salvation as well as for that of the whole world.
       Our evangelisation will be effective only insofar as we live according
       to the dignity of our calling, as members of the Household of God,
       and “practise what we preach”.

       Let us pray for one another, as we approach Christmas, that the
       Divine Word will abide abundantly in us, and bring us all to our
       Eternal Home.

Shalom!

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Matthew 1: 18 — 25

Advent 4     Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

18         6 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, 7 but
before they lived together, she was found with child
through the holy Spirit.

 

19         Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, 8
yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to
divorce her quietly.

 

20         Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the
Lord 9 appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary
your wife into your home. For it is through the holy
Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.

 

21         She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, 10
because he will save his people from their sins.”

 

22         All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said
through the prophet:

 

23         11 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means
“God is with us.”

 

24         When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the
Lord had commanded him and took his wife into
his home.

 

25         He had no relations with her until she bore a son, 12
and he named him Jesus.

6 [18-25] This first story of the infancy narrative spells out what is summarily indicated in Matthew 1:16. The virginal conception of Jesus is the work of the Spirit of God. Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary is overcome by the heavenly command that he take her into his home and accept the child as his own. The natural genealogical line is broken but the promises to David are fulfilled; through Joseph’s adoption the child belongs to the family of David. Matthew sees the virginal conception as the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14.

7 [18] Betrothed to Joseph: betrothal was the first part of the marriage, constituting a man and woman as husband and wife. Subsequent infidelity was considered adultery. The betrothal was followed some months later by the husband’s taking his wife into his home, at which time normal married life began.  

8 [19] A righteous man: as a devout observer of the Mosaic law, Joseph wished to break his union with someone whom he suspected of gross violation of the law. It is commonly said that the law required him to do so, but the texts usually given in support of that view, e.g., Deut 22:20-21 do not clearly pertain to Joseph’s situation. Unwilling to expose her to shame: the penalty for proved adultery was death by stoning; cf Deut 22:21-23.  

9 [20] The angel of the Lord: in the Old Testament a common designation of God in communication with a human being. In a dream: see Matthew 2:13, 19, 22. These dreams may be meant to recall the dreams of Joseph, son of Jacob the patriarch ( Genesis 37:5- 11:19). A closer parallel is the dream of Amram, father of Moses, related by Josephus (Antiquities 2,9,3; 212, 215-16).   

10 [21] Jesus: in first-century Judaism the Hebrew name Joshua (Greek Iesous) meaning “Yahweh helps” was interpreted as “Yahweh saves.”   

11 [23] God is with us: God’s promise of deliverance to Judah in Isaiah’s time is seen by Matthew as fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, in whom God is with his people. The name Emmanuel is alluded to at the end of the gospel where the risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence,”. . . I am with you always, until the end of the age” ( Matthew 28:20).

12 [25] Until she bore a son: the evangelist is concerned to emphasize that Joseph was not responsible for the conception of Jesus. The Greek word translated “until” does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus’ birth, nor does it exclude it.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of
Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of
the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New
American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the copyright owner.

 

Appendix

A Reflection of the Divinity of the Messiah

 

If we would have a strong foundation for our faith and hope, we must keep constantly in view our Saviour’s divinity. He in whose blood we are invited to trust is the Almighty God. All power is in heaven and earth. None can pluck us out of His hand. If we are true believers in Jesus, our heart need not be troubled or afraid.

If we would have sweet comfort in suffering and trial, we must keep constantly in view our Saviour’s humanity.

He is the man Christ Jesus, who lay on the bosom of the Virgin Mary as a little infant, and knows the heart of a man. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He has Himself experienced Satan’s temptations. He has endured hunger. He has shed tears. He has felt pain.

We may trust Him unreservedly with our sorrows. He will not despise us. We may pour out our hearts before Him in prayer boldly, and keep nothing back. He can sympathize with His people.

Let these thoughts sink down into our minds. Let us bless God for the encouraging truths which the first chapter of the New Testament contains. It tells us of One who “saves His people from their sins.” But this is not all. It tells us that this Saviour is “Emmanuel”, God himself, and yet God with us, — God manifest in human flesh like our own. This is glad tidings. This is indeed good news. Let us feed on these truths in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.                                                            J. C. Ryle.

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