According to Matthew: The Birth of Christ

The first thing to note is there is very little overlap between the traditions of Matthew and Luke.  They offer very different and distinctive accounts of the birth of Christ, which are in many places contrary to one another.  As we are used to nativity plays and Christmas scene cards that have attempted to bring the stories together we often miss the Gospel writers distinctive themes and contributions.

In Chapter 1v1-17 Matthew locates the coming of Jesus the Messiah within the broader story of Israel and ‘salvation history’ hence all the genealogy.  Often the point is made that Matthew’s account is from the perspective of Joseph.  In 1v23 it is said the child will be called Immanuel – which means God with us.  This parallels with the Matthew’s account of the resurrection when Jesus promises ‘I am with you always..’

Matthew makes significant parallels with the story of the Exodus and Moses when writing his account.  He does this to make a deeper theological point that Moses was a ‘type’ of Christ – a forerunner to the climax of the story of Israel in Jesus.  We can see this in the story of Herod and the killing of the children of Israel (2v16) and the flight (or dare I say Exile another biblical motif) of the holy family to Egypt.  These Mosaic episodes continue with Sermon on the Mount paralleling the giving of the law at Sinai.  Luke prefers not to take this root and refers to this body of teaching as ‘sermon on the plain’!

Matthew has Jesus visited by Magi (Wise Men) who form the first worshipping Gentiles (non-Jews).  This is an important theme in Matthew that non-Jews are accepted in God’s Kingdom.  We can also see this in the genealogy where both women (also considered lesser) and non-Jews are mentioned. This relates back to the promise of Abraham that God will bless ‘all nations’ through Israel.  In Christian tradition this event is celebrated at Epiphany in early January.

Notice in this account both Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem. There is no stable, no census, no travelling with a  ‘little donkey’!  It is only after the flight to Egypt that the holy family take up residence in Nazareth due to being warned of danger in a dream.

Finally, Matthew portrays the conflict of two Kings: Herod and Jesus.  One attempts to hold onto power at any cost whilst the other gives ultimately gives up his life showing true kingship. Drawing back to the tradition of Moses, Herod is behaving like the Pharaoh.  As Matthew narrates later only Jesus is the true ‘king of the Jews’

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