Sunday 18th December – 4th Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14 Ps 23 Rom 1:1-7 Mtt 1:18-24
‘..and they shall name him Immanuel, which means God is with us.’
Many who hear today’s readings at mass may feel slightly uncomfortable about just how neatly the strange passage from Isaiah contains a prophecy so exactly matched in the passage from Matthew’s gospel. The divergence over the word maiden/virgin highlights the problem, and what has been seen by many as an incontrovertible “proof text” looks less convincing to many who are used to looking below the surface when reading or hearing. Matthew in fact uses five such examples of “fulfilling” the word of the prophets in his short infancy narrative.
When looking at such passages as that given to us today, it is important not to assume that Matthew is either simply trying to crudely fit the prophecies to the story, or to conjure up a proof text to convince sceptics. Most scholars would argue that the gospels begin at the end – that is, they are all written from the perspective of the Resurrection. That is the given, the starting point – Matthew and the community he writes for, know that Jesus is the Son of God – just as Mark had stated at the beginning of his gospel. It is not that people followed the birth and life of Jesus assiduously and therefore came to that conclusion.
Matthew knew who Jesus was and so when he composed his gospel, based on that of Mark in all probability, he added an infancy narrative to “fill in” what had been an unknown part of Jesus’ life. In doing so he knew that Jesus was the unique Son of God, and so looked around to identify the signs that would point to this origin. His theology would not allow him to suggest that Jesus suddenly “became” Son of God at some point, so there must be indications that Jesus was Son from the beginning. John the Evangelist would state this much more magisterially: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Matthew reveals that by tying Jesus into the history of God’s relationship with the people of Israel.
Matthew’s five quotations in the infancy narrative are there to interpret Jesus in the light of salvation history. So the prophecy in today’s readings does just that. It reminds the readers just who this child is – this is the one who fulfils the hopes of God’s people and manifests the promise delivered by the mouths of the prophet. Precisely what believers today would declare!
Monsignor Robert Draper.