“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel…” (Matthew 1:23, NRSV)
Emmanuel (Ἐμμανουὴλ) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Immanuel (עִמָּנוּאֵל). It means, “God with us.” Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Jesus quotes the above passage from Isaiah 7:14 as proof that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God to send a savior. In Matthew’s telling, miraculous circumstances abound. First, there is the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy through Mary’s virgin conception. Then, in a dream, an angel visits Joseph telling him to abandon his plans to end his engagement with Mary. And finally, maybe the most miraculous of all is Joseph’s obedience to the instructions the angel gave him to go through with his marriage to Mary in the face of all these bizarre and illogical occurrences. Matthew wants to assure us that God is at work in this situation.
Each of the gospel writers had a unique style and thematic interpretation of the life of Jesus. Mark’s gospel was the simplest and focused on Jesus as a doer—one who was moving directly in a straight line to his death and resurrection. Luke’s focus was on the universal nature of the grace of God, revealed in Jesus, and extended to all people, including the Gentiles. John’s gospel is the most ethereal and focuses on the way Jesus reveals the true nature of God as an eternal spirit. And Matthew focuses on Jesus as the promised Messiah who fulfills the Old Testament prophecies.
We need all four gospels to give us the fullest representation of who God is as we discover Jesus from these four different perspectives. This Sunday morning, I’ll focus on Matthew’s account of the time leading up to Jesus’ birth. During the Blue Christmas service, I’ll focus on John’s Christmas story from John Chapter One. On Christmas Eve, I’ll use Luke’s familiar and idyllic telling of the birth of Jesus. Luke’s version is the one we all recognize from Linus’ reading of it in the 1965 classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Whatever version of the story is our favorite, each of the gospel writers uniquely declares that God loves us enough to send His Son into the world to show us how to live the best life possible. Like Joseph, if we are willing to follow obediently the path that leads us to our Savior, we are forever changed. I hope you’ll join us for all of our worship services that celebrate the birth of Jesus, who brings new life!