Matthew 1:1-25

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This morning’s Gospel reading causes multiple reactions among people, especially the fact that we read the first 17 verses of Matthew’s Gospel and don’t simply have the entire focus on Matthew’s account of the Virgin Birth of Christ. This chapter is all St. Matthew says about our Lord’s birth – the next chapter of his Gospel begins with the wise men coming from the East to worship Him.

St. Matthew spells out the lineage of our Lord according to the flesh for two reasons. The first reason is his specific audience at the time he wrote his Gospel – St. Matthew is writing his Gospel to the Jews, specifically the Jews who have not accepted Christ as the Messiah. We see consistently throughout this Gospel that St. Matthew draws the parallel between Christ and promised Messiah – he shows the unbelieving Jews of his time that this Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the prophecies and is the Messiah of Israel. The Messiah was to be of the line of David, the greatest of the kings of Israel – so St. Matthew begins his Gospel at the beginning, demonstrating that Jesus was of the line of David, as had been foretold.

The second reason we have this genealogy ties into the second part of the reading, and is what we might think of as the “theological” reason which remains incredibly important for all of mankind today. Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, became man, and He became man as a Jew. God becoming man is what this Nativity season is all about – this is the event that we’re preparing ourselves to celebrate next Sunday at the Feast of the Nativity. God became man. And He became fully and completely human, taking on and identifying completely with our human condition, in all way like us, with the singular exception of sin.

This genealogy reveals the Truth that God is becoming one of us, taking on our history and our humanity. It’s very interesting to see that St. Matthew doesn’t sanitize our Lord ancestry – the list of forebearers of the Lord includes the righteous and kings and Jews, and it also includes sinners and murders and Gentiles. As we all are, Christ was from a line of real and normal human beings, and we see that reflected in the lives of the people we see in His earthly lineage. So St. Matthew shows us from where Christ the Messiah was descended (according to the flesh), and then he moves immediately to show us the specifics – how our Lord was born.

The conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary is a singular event in all of history, and I’d like us to ponder it for a few moments this morning – never before and never after will such a thing take place again. The story we all know: Mary was engaged to Joseph [Mary being a young girl, and Joseph being an elderly widower in the community], and before they were married she was found to be pregnant, to be with child of the Holy Spirit.

St. Matthew doesn’t tell us exactly how that happened, but I think it’s worth dipping into the Gospel of St. Luke [we actually don’t read this account at Liturgy, so it’s nice to have a chance to hear it here this morning], where also in the first chapter we read: “…the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph…the virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’…then Mary said, ‘Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let is be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:26-35, 38)

This scene is of critical importance to our understanding of Who Christ is – the Holy One, He is the Son and Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And out of God’s great love for man, He was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos [bearer of God], and He became man.

We also must be sure that we properly understand this phrase ‘God became man’ – the body of Christ was not a phantasmal body, Christ did not co-opt the body of an already existing man, the body of Christ is His holy body. The body of Christ was created in the womb of the Virgin to be the very body of God in the flesh. In fact, this body is His for all of eternity, as we see at His Holy Resurrection and Ascension – the resurrected body of Christ is joined to the Holy Trinity, and seated at the right hand of God forever. This is the love of God for us.

He took on all that we are, with the exception of sin – St. Gregory the Theologian writes that “what is not assumed cannot be healed.” In other words, God became all that we are, to offer us healing and salvation. Seated at the right hand of the Father is the One who understands us in all of our complexities, in all of our fallen-ness, in all of our pain and shame, in all of our struggles – Christ lived it all with us, that He might demonstrate for us the degree of God’s love for us, and offer us salvation.

As we spend this last week of our Nativity Fast, preparing ourselves to welcome Christ at His Holy Birth next Sunday, ponder on these things. On God’s immense love for us – He left the heavens, the God of all, the Creator of all, the Sustainer of all; He left that and became like us, bearing the burdens of life in the flesh. He didn’t have to do that for any reason – He did it in His love for us, to reveal Himself to man, and to offer us salvation. As we sing at Pascha – Who is so great a God as our God? Our God is the God who works wonders.

Glory to the incarnate Jesus Christ! Glory forever!