“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord…’’
Reflections on the Nativity Gospels, #4
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17).
As we explore Matthew’s account of the Christ’s nativity, it is important that we understand how important this notion of fulfillment is.
Matthew’s story tells us how Jesus was conceived and where he was born, the reactions to His birth, and the divine guidance of His destiny through dreams and angelic commands. But the significance of the entire drama is emphasized by Matthew’s words: ‘All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet.’ Altogether, there are five prophetic utterances from the Old Testament.
Beyond prophetic predictions, Matthew also reveals the way in which the infancy of Jesus replays in its fullest significance a pattern of events that marked the lives of important figures, in the salvation history of Israel. We shall explore both types of fulfillment in the weeks ahead.
We can begin with the role of Joseph, who we find at the culmination of Mathew’s genealogy as ‘the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born’ (Matthew 1:16). His namesake, Joseph, was one of the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob. Sold into slavery by his brothers, he redeemed himself in the eyes of the Pharaoh through his ability to understand dreams. Our Joseph here likewise showed the wisdom to be guided by an angel in a dream
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)
Heeding this dream, Joseph became the husband of Mary and the legal guardian of Jesus, enabling the child to fulfill the messiah’s destiny as a son of David himself. At the same time, we learn of a second ‘genesis,’ and Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit is revealed.
Also in obedience to the dream, Joseph names the child Joshua (the original Hebrew for Jesus), thus aligning the child’s destiny with Joseph, the successor of Moses led the Israelites into the promised land.
A dream, an angelic annunciation, and an obedient dreamer set the stage for the fulfillment of the promise made to the prophet Isaiah:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,’
which means, ‘God is with us.’ (Isaiah 7:14)