Bible Study 11.18.11, 11.30.11, 12.4.11 For Worship 12.11.11Posted: November 21, 2011
Bible Study 11.28.11, 12.1.11. 12.4.11 For Worship 12.11.11
Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;
19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;
21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
This almost too familiar piece of scripture still holds some important gems of wisdom. And we should not ignore the 17 verses that come before this scripture, the genealogy of Jesus traced through Joseph. Now some people wonder why the genealogy of Jesus would be traced through Joseph, when “immaculate conception” would mean that Joseph didn’t have anything to do with it. But in order for Jesus to be the Messiah, his lineage had to come through the House of David, and Joseph was of the House and lineage of David. In Jewish law if a man claimed the child as his own, then he was the father. Perhaps more important we should remember that the early church’s claim of divine conception was to parallel the Roman State Religion’s claim that Caesar Augustus had been divinely conceived. I’m not sure either the Romans or the early church believed in a literal divine conception, after all where does divine sperm come from or what does it look like? Probably both the Romans and the early church were making claims that these extraordinary leaders had an extra or special measure of divine spirit.
Verse 18 tries to capture the sense of the genealogy by using the term “Christ.” According to Wikipedia Christ is the English term for the Greek Χριστός (Khristós) meaning “the anointed one.” It is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach. “The anointed one” does convey special leadership, as the Roman State Religion refer to Augustus as the “anointed one,” but the title does not in itself confer divinity. The title “Son of God” was first applied to Octavian before he was given the title Augustus by the Roman Senate. After the assassination of Julius Caesar a comet appeared in the sky, and many of the superstitious common people believed that this was the soul of Julius climbing up into the heavens, where he was being welcomed as a god by the other gods of the Roman pantheon. Since Octavian has been named as Julius Caesar’s heir in his will, Octavian seized upon the opportunity to have a coin minted to celebrate the occasion. On one side of the coin was a picture of the comet with the words Divine Caesar, on the other side is a picture of the head of Octavian with the legend “Son of God.” When the earliest followers of Jesus used exalted titles and divine attributions for Jesus, they may not have carried the same meaning as the church would give to these terms later.
The genealogy of Jesus also warns us that family trees sometimes contain embarrassing information. There are at least three irregular “liaisons” in the lineage of Jesus: Judah and Tamar, Rahab and Salmon, David and “the wife of Uriah” Bathsheba. Even the messiah comes out of questionable roots.
This is the only scripture that gives Joseph some air time. He is described as a just man, and the designation “just man” meant someone who was familiar with the Torah, the law, and made a special effort to keep the law. Some commentators even describe Joseph as a Tzaddik, a term among the Hassids that means a special Rebbe, who is commonly associated with miracle stories. Thus we should not be surprised that many miracles seem to surround Joseph the Tzaddik.
First, there is the miracle of being betrothed to the young woman God chose as the mother of the Messiah. That also means that God had chosen Joseph to serve as the Father of the Messiah. Jesus, the Messiah would learn a trade and Torah from his Father. His character would be molded by following in the footsteps of a righteous man.
When Joseph was unsure whether or not to take Mary as his wife, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and told him to name the child Emmanuel. Perhaps an even greater miracle was that Joseph paid attention to his dream and obeyed the angel. When the angel appeared to Joseph in Bethlehem to warn him of the soldiers sent by the murderous Herod to look for the child, again miraculously Joseph took his dream seriously and took Mary and the child and fled for Egypt. If we have any trouble believing the story of the flight to Egypt just think of all the refugees from Lybia earlier in the year and Syria right now. Some things just don’t change.
Joseph’s goodness, his willingness to believe, his openness to this dreams and the miracles happening around him make Joseph a special hero in the Christmas Story. Joseph’s story can remind us that each of us has an opportunity to be a special kind of hero too, if we don’t miss the miracle of the Christ Child. The miracle of Christmas is the opportunity to reach out to someone else’s need and without fanfare, secretly, quietly give a gift where it is needed.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. In verse 18, what title is given to Jesus?
2. What was Mary’s status in relationship to Joseph?
3. How does verse 18 attribute Mary’s pregnancy?
4. How is Joseph described in verse 19?
5. What plan did Joseph conceive to cope with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy?
6. What motivations does the text ascribe to Joseph for his plans to cope with Mary’s pregnancy?
7. According to the text why did Joseph change his plans?
8. Who speaks to Joseph?
9. Whose prophecy is to be fulfilled by naming the child Emmanuel?
10. What name does Joseph actually give to the child?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. How old do you think you were, when you can first remember hearing this text?
2. What do you think the gospel story teller was trying to convey in this story?
3. How important do you think Joseph was in the life of Jesus?
4. Do you think there is any reason story teller uses the phrase “put her to shame,” rather than “stone her to death.”
5. Why do you think the story teller uses a dream as the vehicle of revelation?
6. Have you ever had a “significant” dream?
7. Why do you think the prophecy says, “Emmanuel,” but the baby’s name is Jesus?
8. The earliest writings in the New Testament, the Letters of Paul and the Gospel of Mark make no mention of a birth narrative. Why do you think Matthew and Luke included birth narratives in their gospels?
9. Imagine for a moment you are a member of an early Christian community that has a copy of the Gospel of Mark, a sayings Gospel like “Q” and copies of one or two letters of Paul. How might your sense of the Christian faith be different?
10. How do you think our popular celebration of Christmas has affected the way we read the birth narratives?