Matthew 1: Birth of the Lord
Every year when Christmas comes and all its happiness, we must go back and remember the first Christmas when the Lord was born. It was at Bethlehem, the little town of Judea south of Jerusalem, in the land of Palestine. The little stone houses were clustered thick together on a hill. Rich green valleys and hillsides were about it from which it had its name, Bethlehem, " house of bread." To the east it looked out over open hills that were more barren, though in the rainy season there was pasture there for sheep. Bethlehem was the town where David lived long years before and he tended his father's sheep on these hills. It was still called "the city of David."
At the time that we are thinking of, the first Christmas, many people were coming to Bethlehem who belonged to David's family, for they were all to be enrolled. Among the rest Mary and Joseph came from Galilee from their home in Nazareth, but the inn, the place where travelers rested, was full, and as people from long ago have believed, they rested in a cave in a hillside near by, where animals were sheltered. There are many such caves in the hills about Bethlehem, and they are often used as sheepfolds and stables and even as houses. Here the Lord was born, and His mother Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, one of the little feeding-boxes from which the animals took their food.
Let me show you how the swaddling clothes were used. I lay this square of soft cloth on the floor. I fold one corner in and lay the baby's head on it, the feet toward the opposite corner. Now I fold this opposite corner over the feet, and fold the other corners over the baby from each side. Then I tie a band around the precious bundle toward the head and another toward the feet, and join the two bands by a cross-band above which makes a convenient handle by which the baby may be safely lifted. If you take a handkerchief and wrap your doll up in this way you will see how snug and comfortable it is. So the mother Mary wrapped the baby Lord and laid Him in a manger. We can imagine that we are there and feel the wonderful holiness that was about the Lord.
And as we stand by the manger, who are these men who come looking for the Lord and are sure that they have found Him when they see the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger? They are the shepherds, for the angel came to them in the field as they watched over their flock by night, and told them the good news that the Lord was born. And they saw the multitude of the heavenly host and heard their song, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Perhaps you can say the verses about the angels and the shepherds. (Luke 2:8-20)
Two of the four Gospels tell us about the birth of the Lord; which two are they? Both these Gospels tell of the angels and of their interest and their joy in the Lord's coming, for the angels knew better than people in this world who the Lord was, and what blessing His coming would bring to the world. The angels knew that the Lord was not like other men; that even from the first God's own infinite life was the life of the Holy Child, so that He was truly "God with us." We read in Matthew how an angel told Joseph this, and in Luke how an angel told it to the mother Mary. (Luke 1:26-35) Years after, some who had known the Lord living and working as a carpenter in Nazareth, asked, "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22) But the Lord never spoke of any father but the Heavenly Father. (John 5:17, 18) Even at twelve years old when they found Him in the temple with the doctors, the Lord seemed gently to correct any misunderstanding as to who He was. Mary said, "Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing;" but He said, "How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:48, 49)
There is so much doubt and uncertainty in the world about the Lord's birth, so many people are thinking and saying that He was just a man like other men, it is important for us to notice carefully what the angels told about His birth, and what the Lord Himself told about it. In the New Church it is made very plain to us that the Lord Jesus Christ was not just a man like other men; He was the Heavenly Father, clothing His infinite brightness and power to come near to us in this world.
And the angels knew better than people in this world what a blessing the Lord's coming would bring. He would bring a power to cast out devils, to save people from evil and from all the unhappiness that evil brings. The whole world would feel the blessing of His coming. Remember the angel's message to the shepherds, "Good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people," and the song of the multitude of the heavenly host, "On earth peace, good will toward men."
All particulars about the Lord's coming and His life on earth, the country and town where He lived, the customs of the people, are full of interest to us. And first of all it is interesting to know about the family into which the Lord was born, the ancestors of Mary and Joseph. In Matthew a line of descent is given from Abraham to Joseph. As we trace it down let us see how many of the persons, or of the events of history mentioned, you recognize and can tell me about. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob you can remember; and Judas or Judah and his brethren. If you have ever read the Book of Ruth you will recognize names in verse 5, and you all will remember Jesse and David and Solomon. In verse 11 we read of the carrying away into Babylon; do you remember about that? So we come down to Joseph and Mary and have learned something of the family into which the Lord was born. This list of names in Matthew shows that the Lord was born in the line of the Jewish kings. He did indeed inherit David's throne, and a throne far greater than David's (Luke 1:32, 33); He was indeed a King (John 18:36, 37), far greater than David or any kings of earth.
1. How many Gospels are there? What are they called?
2. Who was Matthew who by the Lord's guidance wrote the first Gospel? (Matthew 9:9)
3. Where was Mary's home? Where was the Lord born ?
4. What does the name Jesus mean? The name Emmanuel ?
5. How many generations are counted from Abraham to Christ?
The difference between the Lord's birth and that of other men is beautifully and plainly told in Matthew and in Luke. The life of the Holy Child was not limited by human fatherhood; it was the very Divine life itself clothing itself with a human form and nature, and revealing itself to men. We cannot misunderstand the plain statements of Matthew and Luke upon this point. To claim as some persons do that these passages cannot be rightly a part of the Gospel is a pure assumption. Read L. 21; T. 83, 84.
We have spoken of the genealogy in Matthew as telling something of the history of the family into which the Lord was born. Remembering that Mary was probably of near kin to Joseph, the genealogy is also the genealogy of Mary, and tells of the human inheritance of many generations, which the Lord took upon Himself in coming to live with men.
But there is a deeper meaning in it all. We know that the Old-Testament characters represent elements in every regenerating soul. This series of names given as a genealogy of the Lord describes the building up of the perfect humanity in which the Divine could dwell, by learning and doing the Divine truth. We may trace the process here described from the first childlike learning of truth and obedience represented by Abraham, through the rational understanding and exercise of truth represented by David and the kings, to the deeper, humbler perception and acceptance of truth after experience of temptation represented by the captivity in Babylon. The genealogy is divided into these three periods: Abraham to David, David to Babylon, Babylon to the Lord, representing these three stages of development by which the perfect humanity was formed. And each period was fourteen generations; the work of each stage of development was thoroughly and perfectly done.
With this thought of the meaning of the genealogy in mind, compare the genealogy in Matthew with that given in Luke 3:23-38. The first difference that we notice is that the genealogy in Luke is given in reverse order, not from Abraham to Joseph, but from Joseph back to Abraham and to God. If the genealogy in Matthew represents the formation step by step of the humanity of our Lord to be the tabernacle of the Divine, this genealogy in Luke represents the filling of the humanity with the Divine as it was prepared to receive it. The genealogy in Luke is not placed at the beginning of the Gospel, but follows the account of the Lord's baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit; it is describing this descent of the Divine into the humanity prepared for its reception. Other differences between the genealogies in Matthew and in Luke will also repay a careful study. See Matthew's Gospel, J. Worcester, pages 5-31.