When we turn to the pages of Matthew’s gospel account, we see a story transpiring right from the beginning. It’s a story that’s been going on for quite some time.
We know this because that’s how ch.1 begins. It’s another stressful genealogy recounting name after name, many of which we are unsure of how to pronounce. But the genealogy is a clue that a story has been unfolding, a very ancient story that harkens back to the Jewish father, Abraham (and Luke takes us back even further).
When we get to the section of Matthew 1 that we know a bit better, the one in which the angel comes to Joseph in a dream, we find a famous passage quoted from Isaiah 7:
Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel
We could land on that verse for some time. Sermon after sermon has heralded this one verse during the Christmas season. And there are others quoted from the Old Testament. Moving into ch.2, we discover 3 others – from prophets Micah, Hosea, and Jeremiah.
But here’s the thing we need to remember: Though it seems that Matthew is simply quoting 4 isolated verses to make 4 individual points about Jesus, the greater thing taking place here is that the story of Jesus is being connected to the whole ancient Jewish story.
True, there are particular elements to connect between Jesus, the Messiah, and the Jewish story. Born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, being called out of Egypt. However, we must not see this as the primary goal in referencing these Scriptures. There was a deep narrative that had been unfolding for centuries, for millennia, and Jesus was the great fulfillment of it all.
Jesus would frame it this way at the end of Luke’s gospel:
These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled. (24:44)
He references the 3 “sections” of the Jewish Scriptures: the Law of Moses (we call it the Pentateuch), the Prophets (which are most of the history books and major prophets), and the Psalms (also known as the Writings, which included all other parts of their ancient Scripture). The point in doing such is this: The Jesus-story connects and fulfills the whole story.
There was no great need to quote a verse from Genesis, another from Exodus, one from Joshua, then on to 2 Samuel, then Isaiah, then a couple of the Psalms. Rather, scenes 1, 2 and 3 were all headed toward this messiah figure, Jesus.
Even when certain verses are quoted, the Jewish author is usually invoking a whole context in which that passage is found. That’s simply the Jewish way. Just as quoting one line from Yoda might remind us of an entire dialogue between he and Luke Skywalker. And we have favorite Star Wars scenes, no doubt. But it’s the Star Wars story, now running across the 7 films, that rises as most enchanting and magical!
What does this mean in our own lives as we approach Advent?
God is active in our lives personally. And those actions of God need to be remembered and recounted. They give us strength, resolve, encouragement, hope, grace and more. Still, as God works individually amongst us and within specific situations, let’s recall to mind how this connects to the wider work of God across our communities, neighborhoods, families, and the extensive redemptive work of God that has been going on for millennia. And, even more today, we connect God’s own work in our lives to the story of Jesus that is still playing out presently.
The Christmas story is one that connects to an ancient story.
Our story is one that connects to an ancient story as well.
Let’s tell the story well.
Let’s remember that we are part of an overwhelming tapestry of God’s good and gracious work amongst humanity.