Today’s scriptures tell part of the story of the coming of Jesus. Each of the writers gives a different perspective, not only in time, but also in emphasis.
Micah, looking toward the future, could only see dimly how his prophetic words might be fulfilled. First, he utters prophetic words about Bethlehem, a marker that would later provide one of the many signs of authenticity for the coming Messiah. He then tells us that the Messiah would be a ruler, yet he invokes the model of a shepherd. His origins would be from ancient times – an oblique reference to mysteries of the distant past. His greatness will reach the ends of the earth. And audaciously, He would not merely bring peace, He would be peace.
Peace is misunderstood in our time. Some confuse it with an absence of violence, but such a condition may also exist in an oppressive regime. Real peace reflects the reign of God, in which justice prevails and those with enmity toward God’s Kingdom no longer need to be kept at bay. In one sense, the strength of the Lord and His majestic name, which Micah describes, do indeed reach to the ends of the earth. It is already a reality for people of faith. But in another sense we fail to see this kind of peace fully realized in our world, and this continues to sting. When we pass the peace at church, it brings me great joy to think of the reign of God, which is both present and yet to come.
Matthew continues this story from a different point in history. He begins with the context of a genealogy extending back to Abraham, whose pedigree is undoubtedly known to Matthew’s readers. Unlike we moderns, who like to define ourselves anew (daily, if possible), the list portends a deep connection with an ancient people, connecting across generations. This list of men and women extends down from Abraham through King David, finally reaching “Joseph, the husband of Mary.” This lineage helps us to understand how Bethlehem becomes Jesus’ birthplace, as it is the city of David where Mary and Joseph must return. (See Luke 2:1-5).
Matthew’s gospel continues by filling in details of the “time when she who is to give birth has borne” that Micah’s prophecy could only foreshadow. We learn that Joseph’s encounter with the angel changed his plans. We do not know what Joseph knew about what Micah had written years before, but perhaps such knowledge helped to confirm his faith in what the angel told him. Ultimately, he demonstrated this faith by his action: serving as “the husband of Mary” and an earthly father to Jesus. This must have been difficult. Joseph was in the midst of this story, and we all know how difficult it can be to understand a challenging situation while we are in the thick of experiencing it.
With the perspective of history, not to mention personal knowledge of Jesus and his ministry, Matthew could see how the story fit with the prophetic words of the past. We are allowed to share Matthew’s vista, and this story is now familiar to us. Nevertheless, the fragile interconnectedness of these events still provides a basis for amazement.
We must also remember that this story is still ongoing, and we are in the midst of it. We are still moving toward the full realization of God’s peace. Like Micah, we do not understand fully how this part of the story will play out, or what the details will look like. Like Joseph, we may find ourselves perplexed and struggle to reach the right choices with imperfect information. But we have great comfort in knowing that God is indeed with us (Emmanuel), and He is writing the story.
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