2010 - Vol. 45
Shall Call His Name Jesus”
by Jeanne Kun
The moment long awaited by Israel is now at hand. Devout Jews had been
yearning for centuries for the fulfillment of the messianic promises. Their
hopes and expectations –
much more –
soon be realized: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son,
born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Another English
translation, “In the fullness of time,” evokes the vivid image of year
being added to year, like an empty measure being filled drop by drop until
it brims over.
“Born of woman” –
chose to send one of human flesh and blood to overcome the curse of sin
that Adam and Eve had brought upon humankind. And so he asked a daughter
of Israel, Mary of Nazareth, to be the mother of his Son. Of Mary’s role
in God’s plan, Cardinal John Henry Newman noted,
The Seed of the woman, announced to guilty Eve, after long
delay, was at length appearing upon earth, and was to be born of her. In
her the destinies of the world were to be reversed, and the serpent’s head
bruised. On her was bestowed the greatest honor ever put upon any individual
of our fallen race. God was taking upon Him her flesh, and humbling Himself
to be called her offspring; –
is the deep mystery! (Sermon 12, “The Reverence Due to the Virgin”)
Mary gave her consent to God’s request –
I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”
(Luke 1:38) –
Jesus was conceived in her womb through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit
(1:35). Yet Mary must have been overwhelmed as she heard the angel Gabriel
describe the child she was to bear: He was to be named Jesus (1:31), meaning
“the Lord saves,” and would be called “Son of the Most High” (1:32) and
“Son of God” (1:35). He would be the fulfillment of the promise God made
to David so long ago (1:32-33).
Matthew tells us that Joseph took Mary, his betrothed, to be his wife
after God assured him of the divine purpose at work in her. The child Mary
was carrying had been conceived in a way that surpassed nature –
the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18) –
would “save his people from their sins” (1:21). “[Joseph] took Mary as
his wife in humble acceptance of the mystery of her maternity. He accepted
her along with her Son who would come to the world by the action of the
Holy Spirit. St. Joseph can therefore be compared to Our Lady in his great
docility to the will of God as revealed to him by an angel” (Pope John
Paul II, Guardian of the Redeemer).
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth begins with his genealogy (Matthew
1:1-16). Jewish genealogies followed the male line. Joseph belonged to
the family of David and was, as the husband of Mary, the legal father of
Jesus. As such, God entrusted Joseph with the responsibility of naming
of the child (1:21, 25). Since this was a parental duty, Joseph’s action
indicates that he adopted this child into his lineage. Through Joseph’s
lineage and his legal paternity, Jesus is the son of David –
thus fulfills God’s promise to David that his dynasty would last for all
generations. Since it was common for people to marry within their clans,
most likely Mary was also descended from the house of David.
But it is through the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal maternity
of Mary that Jesus is the Son of God. Concerning the manner of Jesus’ birth,
Matthew refers back to the prophecy of Isaiah 7 and explains, “All this
took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold,
a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel”
(which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23). Archbishop Oscar Romero
pointed out that as the virgin mother of the Messiah, “Mary is the human
instrument . . . who by her holiness was able to incarnate in history God’s
In words that have become so familiar to us that we know them by heart,
Luke describes the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem,
David’s city, and the unassuming circumstances of Jesus’ birth there (Luke
Bethlehem lies in the Judean hills, six miles south of Jerusalem. Rachel,
the wife of the patriarch Jacob, was buried there, and Ruth, who became
the great-grandmother of David and ancestress of Jesus, settled in the
town. Bethlehem was the birthplace of David as well as the place where
Samuel anointed David king to succeed Saul. Bethlehem is a small and seemingly
insignificant town, yet the prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah in
the latter half of the eighth century B.C., said of it,
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among
the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler
in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
Jewish tradition interpreted Micah’s prophecy as predicting the exact place
of birth of the anticipated Messiah, a king who was to be far greater than
David. Centuries after Micah, the Roman census decreed by Caesar Augustus
brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where the birth of Jesus took place.
Learned scribes of Israel who studied the ancient writings of the prophets
recalled Micah’s prediction of where the Christ was to born when the wise
men came to King Herod’s palace seeking the newborn king of the Jews (Matthew
2:1-6). God’s plan to redeem the human race, begun at the gates of Eden,
reached now to the gates of Bethlehem.
The angel’s message to the shepherds contains the announcement of the
birth in the city of David of a “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke
2:11). This child is a savior, because he has come to redeem and save us
from our sins. He is Christ (christos means anointed one), the Messiah
now born in fulfillment of the ancient hopes. Yet the angel also told the
shepherds that they would find this newborn “wrapped in swaddling cloths
and lying in a manger” (2:12), a humble setting for one they announced
so exaltedly. Luke’s text echoes the description of Solomon, King David’s
son, found in the Book of Wisdom:
And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air,
and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like
that of all. I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. For no king has
had a different beginning of existence; there is for all mankind one entrance
into life, and a common departure.(Wisdom 7:3-6)
By his human birth Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary, shared our common
humanity, our vulnerability, our mortality,
The humility of God condescending to being born as a human child in
a stable is almost unfathomable. Jesus’ birth in the flesh is a manifestation
of the mercy and grace of God. The shepherds were privileged to be the
first to greet the incarnate God and to testify of him to others (Luke
2:17-18). Surely what they saw that wondrous night transformed their lives
and set them aglow with hope, for now a child was growing up among them
to be their savior!
Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)
through the years ahead as her son grew and God’s unlikely plan of salvation
unfolded before her.
Jeanne Kun is a noted author
and a senior womens' leader in the Word
of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
Promises Fulfilled, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright
© 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
of the Shepherds by El Greco (1603)
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; 19and her husband Joseph, being a just
man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly.
20But 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; 21she will
bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people
from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken
by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph
woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took
his wife, 25but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his
those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should
be enrolled. 2This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor
of Syria. 3And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. 4And Joseph
also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the
city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and
lineage of David, 5to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with
child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.
7And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling
cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in
in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over
their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the
glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And
the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news
of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11for to you is born
this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this
will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths
and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude
of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he
the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which
the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they went with haste, and found Mary
and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it they
made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18and
all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary kept
all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had
been told them.
at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus,
the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Pondering the Word
1. Summarize Joseph’s role in God’s plan of salvation.
What does the narrative in Matthew 1:18-24 indicate to you about Joseph’s
character? What qualities does he exhibit?
2. List all the titles attributed to Jesus in
Matthew 1:18-24 and Luke 2:1-20. Why, in your opinion, did Matthew and
Luke begin their gospels with such attention to Jesus’ identity?
3. Identify the links between David and Jesus
recorded by Matthew and Luke. Why do you think the Evangelists pointed
so frequently to the Old Testament prophecies in describing Jesus and his
4. Luke mentions many concrete details about the
circumstances surrounding Jesus birth (the Roman census, the city of David,
the lack of space in the inn). Do you think Mary and Joseph understood
the significance of these circumstances at the time? What does this physical
setting add to your understanding of Jesus’ birth and mission?
5. Why, in your opinion, did God announce the
birth of his Son to shepherds rather than to the leaders of Israel? Note
the verbs that describe the shepherds’ actions. What do these actions and
their response to God’s message suggest about them?
6. What is the significance of Jesus’ incarnation
is, of the fact that he took on human flesh to redeem us? How is this related
to God’s promise in Genesis 3:15?
Living the Word
1. How does the fact that Jesus is both God and
man affect you personally? Have you ever felt reluctant to bring your troubles
to Jesus, thinking that he wouldn’t understand? If so, how can you overcome
2. Israel awaited the coming of the Messiah for
long centuries, until “the time had fully come” (Galatians 4:4) for God
to send his Son. Reflect on a situation in your life in which you were
forced to wait on God and his timing. How did you deal with it? How can
“waiting on God” be an active rather than a passive activity?
3. Joseph trusted God and obeyed him in the face
of unexpected situations such as Mary’s miraculous pregnancy and the lack
of accommodations in Bethlehem. What current situations in your life call
for trust in God and obedience? How can Joseph’s example help you?
4. The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh
is salvation,” that is, “savior.” In what concrete ways has Jesus “saved”
5. The shepherds shared the good news of what
they been told by the angel with Mary and Joseph and others (Luke 2:17-18).
Have you ever had the opportunity to share Christ and the gospel message
with others? Can you think of instances when you missed an opportunity
to spread the good news? What prevented you?
6. At the birth of Christ, a heavenly host of
angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13-14). Imagine yourself
joining in their song of worship, and write your own prayer praising God
for his Son’s incarnation and thanking him for his great love for you.