Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25
Epistle: Romans 1:1-7
Lesson: Isaiah 7:10-17
Psalm: Psalm 24
CLB Commentary – Rev. Kenneth Narvesen
The verses of our Gospel text for this Fourth Sunday in Advent provide a peek into one of the deepest mysteries we humans have ever encountered. Yes, the text provides some snippets of information about betrothal and marriage customs in the first century, but the text is not about those customs. The text also gives some clues about the marriage between the Virgin Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, but the text is not about those details and whether or not Mary was a “perpetual virgin.”
The text is indeed all about that deepest of mysteries, Immanuel, God with us. The pastor who would rightly divide the Word of truth would do well to devote a considerable portion of time to prayer and meditation of that one word, Immanuel, as he begins to prepare to preach on this text. Did the Son of God actually become a human being? Why would he do so? What are the implications of this mystery for you and for me?
Matthew looks into this mystery as it had been prophesied by Isaiah. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Of this powerful prophecy Franz Delitzsch writes, “The incarnation is, indeed, a veiled mystery in the Old Testament, but the veil is not so dense that it admits of no rays striking through . . . this ‘virgin’ was and remained a riddle in the Old Testament, mightily stirring up the inquiry and search (1 Peter 1:10-12), and awaiting a solution in historic fulfillment.”
Note that both Isaiah’s prophecy and Matthew’s text use the definite article before virgin. While some versions make it indefinite, the Word here points to the absolute uniqueness of this virgin. Here indeed is the only virgin who ever gave birth. Isaiah had called it a sign. What a remarkable, clearly identifiable sign it is. Who can look at the wonder of a virgin giving birth and not see the mystery of God doing something special?
The powerful story of the Gospel, from Bethlehem to Calvary to the tomb which became empty in three days, is thus sandwiched between the prophecy of Isaiah and the commentary on its significance in 1 Peter 1:10-12, “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” No wonder the angels attended the birth of this virgin’s baby. They had been longing for a peek at how God would display his glory for centuries. Immanuel, oh the wonder of it all!
But make no mistake that when Immanuel happens, it has life changing implications for all of us. Joseph was told he was to take Mary to be his wife, and that he was to name this child Jesus, for he would save his people from their sin. Interestingly, God did not tell him this before he had a chance to wrestle with the implications of Mary’s pregnancy. Being engaged to a woman who was pregnant presented a problem to a devout Jew. Joseph knew that whatever he chose to do with Mary had to reflect the moral, righteous life that had always been so important to him. Maybe some in society were just concerned about appearances, but Joseph I believe was honestly concerned about integrity and morality. Joseph was troubled by the situation, and assumed that the best he could do for this woman he loved was to quietly divorce her and not make a spectacle of her. But as he was grappling with Mary’s pregnancy, the angel of God declared to him the wonder of Immanuel. Before it was Mary’s reputation that was at stake, now it was his. What would people think as he took this pregnant woman to be his wife, and named her unborn son Jesus?
Immanuel brings challenges to the status quo, not just for Mary and Joseph, but also for every one of us. Explore the implications of Immanuel this week.