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Sunday Before Nativity: Mt 1:1-25

You may be asking yourselves, what do all these names in the genealogy of Jesus signify?

Well, the book of genealogy (vv1-17) reveals the history of God’s choice of His servants and the preparation of humanity for the Lord’s coming. It reveals the identity of Jesus Christ as: 1. True Israel: Son of Abraham and David; 2. True God: Immanuel, God with us. As the adopted son of Joseph He is a descendant of David and Abraham. As the child of Mary He is a new creation (Theanthropos) generated by the Holy Spirit. Although He represents two generations He is one person and has one name, Jesus. This is the name, which the angel commanded Joseph to give Mary’s child because “He will save His people from their sins”. The verb sosei (“he will save”) is an etymological pun on the Hebrew meaning of the name of Jesus. He is to be called Jesus because He will save. His life will manifest a direct correspondence between His activity and His name, between His person and His work. That is why His naming is so important. It anticipates what is yet to be told in this “Book of Genealogy” and the remainder of Matthews Gospel.

The Jews believed that to know a person’s or things name means knowledge/power, since the name signifies the essence of the person or thing it refers to.

Therefore, in the Gospel, Abraham represents a figure of Christ since his name is interpreted: ‘the Father of many nations’. Similarly, Christ is ‘Father of many believers, the new Israel’. Abraham moreover went out from his own tribe, and sojourned in a strange land. In like manner, Christ, leaving the Jewish nation, went by His preachers throughout the Gentiles across the globe.

Morally, Abraham signifies to us the virtue of: ‘faith in Christ’. As an example himself, it is said of him, Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to Him for righteousness. Isaac represents hope, for Isaac means ‘laughter’, he was the joy of his parents, and hope is our joy, making us to hope for eternal blessings and of joy in them. Abraham begot Isaac, – faith begets hope. Jacob signifies ‘love’, for love embraces two lives: 1. Active in the love for our neighbour, 2. Contemplative in the love of God. Jacob is born of two parents, as love is born of faith and hope, for what we believe, we both hope for and love.

Jesse is interpreted as ‘incense.’ For if we serve God in love and fear/awe, there will be a devotion in our heart (a thankful heart) which in the heat and desire of the heart offers the sweetest incense to God. So, when one has become a fit servant and a sacrifice of incense to God, it follows that he becomes David, (i.e. ‘of a strong hand,’) who fought mightily against his enemies. In like manner we ought to master through struggle /effort/asceticism, our personal carnal passions and other ‘worldly’ weaknesses, by learning the way of life of the saints who lived a life well-pleasing to God, utilizing the gifts of the Church.

However, we see in the lineage of Jesus, men who were not only great in virtue, but great sinners. ‘David the King begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.’ David committed adultery. However, David is called Holy and excellent since he confessed himself to be but man and hence did not neglect to wash out with the tears of repentance the sin of which he had been guilty, and through his repentance he gave us the Psalms. Therefore, he showed us that no-one should trust in their own strength, for we have a mighty adversary whom we cannot overcome without God’s aid.

So in v 10, Hezekias means: ‘the strong Lord’, or, ‘the Lord shall comfort’. According to that, the Lord said: ‘Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ Hezekias begot Manasseh which means: ‘forgetful’, or ‘forgotten’, according to that, the Lord said: ‘I will not remember your sins any more’. And so the Lord is Amon, which means: ‘Faithful’, according to that: The Lord is faithful in all His words. He is also Josiah, that is, ‘the incense of the Lord,’ signifying prayer, since the Lord ‘being in agony, He prepared more earnestly.’

The name Mary is interpreted ‘Star of the Sea,’ from the Hebrew ‘Mistress’, as she bore into this confused world the Light of Salvation, and the Lord.

Now, the mystery of Jesus’ person is declared in the first episode of the infancy narrative that follows the genealogy – He is conceived of a virgin by the power of the Spirit of God (Matthew 1:18-25). The purpose of this first citation is to indicate the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies – that Jesus was the one to whom the prophecies of Israel were pointing.

Joseph, which means ‘to increase’, is a model of virtue for us, he represents the increase of virtues. The Bible passage is a window into Joseph’s life which exemplifies the keeping of God’s commandments by faith. Not only that, Joseph indicates self-mastery as he was able to triumph over the passion of fornication and at least two other traits are acknowledged: his love/mercy, and long-suffering patience, which are real human qualities. Joseph, being betrothed, i.e. he had an engagement of protection to Mary, and being a ‘just man’, did not want to present Mary to the rulers because he knew that under the strict Mosaic Law they would ridicule and kill her by stoning, for the suspected pregnancy without being married.

What can we learn from this event that we can apply to our lives today?

Well, Joseph represents something more than the righteous Israel; he represents the truly obedient Israel to a higher law, the law of mercy. Since Joseph is not physically involved in the generation of Jesus, the irregularity of Mary’s pregnancy must be explained to him. While contemplating a quiet divorce Joseph is approached by the angel of the Lord, addressed as “Son of David”, and commanded to make Mary’s child his own by adoption. Joseph is attentive/alert, and obedient, to the command of God through the angel. So, by Adam’s disobedience we were ruined, by Joseph’s example of obedience we can all begin to be recalled to our former condition. For in these words is spoken to us the great virtue of Joseph’s obedience when Matthew stated: ‘And Joseph rising from sleep, did as the Angel of the Lord had commanded him’ v. 24).

Only as a result of Joseph’s obedience to the angel of the Lord’s command, is Jesus linked to the history of Israel. And, if Jesus is the climax of the history of Israel, at least in terms of His identity as the son of David, He is that, by reason of His relationship to Joseph and not to Mary. Joseph therefore, by adopting Jesus upholds the continuity of the Davidic line and the divine promises which have accompanied it for many generations – especially the prophecy of Isaiah which occurred 650 years before the actual event (Is 7:14).

Not only does the Angel vindicate the Virgin from all impurity, but shows that the conception was supernatural. So, the angel provides the fruits of Joseph’s obedience: 1.removing his fears and 2. giving him much joy, as the angel said: ‘That which is born in her is of the Holy Spirit…. For He will save His people from their sins’ v2–21.

But we also see a further outcome of Joseph’s obedience to protect Mary until she gave birth. Whereas before the birth, Joseph had not understood how great Mary’s dignity was – hence Matthew stated: ‘and did not know her till she had bought forth her first-born’ – what this means is that, after the birth he was given an insight into the mystery of God, he knew that Mary had been made more honourable and worthy than the world, since she carried in her womb, Him, whom the whole world could not contain.

So, today/right now, we can share in the same fruits as Joseph by our personal obedience to the will of God, to that which is pleasing to God, which we learn through the teachings of Jesus Christ and those whom He made and makes saints.

Indeed, Jesus saves, His people. That is, those who believe in Him and His teachings, and live according to their belief. He saves not so much from the visible but from the invisible enemies, and not by fighting with arms, but by removing our sins which destroy our unity and life.

Therefore, let us render all glory to the God of glory; and let us sing to Him unto the ages. Amen. For glory does not belong to us, but is only proper to His Son and His Holy Spirit. Knowing, therefore, that everything lies in Him, pray to Him. “For he knows what we require even before we ask it of him” (Mt 6:8) and he will grant every request of our soul, if we do not stand as a hindrance. Pray for me, that I may know my weakness and be humbled.

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