December 2010 - Vol. 45

“You Shall Call His Name Jesus”

A Scriptural reflection 
by Jeanne Kun

Reflecting on the Word
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 and much more would 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” God 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; such is the deep mystery! (Sermon 12, “The Reverence Due to the Virgin”)
Mary gave her consent to God’s request “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) and 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 “of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18) and 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 and 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 divine life.”

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 2:4-7).

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. 

Excerpt from God's Promises Fulfilled, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco (1603)

The Scene
Matthew 1:18-25

18Now 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:

23 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
 and 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 name Jesus.

The Scene
Luke 2:1-21

1In 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 the inn.

8And 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,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

15When 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.

21And 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 birth?

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 that 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 that reluctance?

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” you?

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.

 (c) copyright 2010  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom