The following is an introduction to a short series on the five fulfillments of Matthew 1 and 2.
Everything we know in life comes to us through story. We grew up on stories we witnessed about family, childhood, the world around us. We learned how and when to laugh, how and when to love, and how and when to cry from watching and making the stories of what we saw into guiding narratives for our lives. Even mundane things we know, like when to change the oil in our car, we learned as stories, such as the dreaded story of the burned-up engine.
Sometimes people get confused and think that what they want in life is just the facts. We imagine that life could just be boiled down to lists and table and bullet points. We imagine ourselves scientific beings simply following the known data about life.
But then we pay large sums of money to be entertained with stories. Vulcan starship officers we are not.
Our love for stories ought to clue us in to a fuller view of life and meaning. Imagine a great romantic comedy reduced to bullet points:
Man, woman, no love
Man, woman, growing interest
Man, woman, unspoken love
Man, woman, crisis to growing love
Man, woman, overcome crisis
Man, woman, kissing and very happy
Not only would non one pay to rent that from Blockbuster, it wouldn’t even be worth the gas if it was a free rental.
Stories are how we learn and experience and grow. And we have had our share of mundane but useful yarns, like the oil change horror story, and more significant epic sagas like our first kiss. We’ve had farcical disappointment stories and senseless tragedy stories along with glimpses of the divine romantic epic.
And among all the stories of the world, at some point there have been some uber-stories, the most important ones of all: God creating us, loving us, reaching out to us. Some stories make sense of all the others.
The adventure of Messiah’s birth is one such guiding narrative. It evokes such life-giving elements as the saga of death and salvation and life after death. It is a story about God becoming like us so we can become like him.
And, we could do to this story what we did experimentally with that romantic comedy. We could stick just to the facts:
A child born in Judea about 5 B.C.E.
The child was believed by some to be a prophesied deliverer.
The child is believed by some to be divine as well as human.
The child is the subject of the world’s largest religious movement.
But the story is so much richer than a mere list of facts. It is not enough to know that Yeshua was born. The story waits for us filled with meaning and hope.
But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). –Matthew 1:20-23
And as we get into the depths of Matthew’s version, we find that he looks at Yeshua’s life in terms of echoes of Israel’s story. But too often readers miss the joyous interplay of story and insist on a tabloid prophecy approach:
ANCIENT PROPHET ACCURATELY DESCRIBES LIFE OF BETHLEHEM BOY
If we are tempted to reduce Messiah’s birth story to facile headlines, we may as well give up great books and great movies. From some of the preaching and teaching Matthew 1 and 2 have been subjected to, we might as well reduce all great stories to a bullet point outline.
The idea that some Israelite prophets saw advance headlines about the life and career of Messiah is not wrong for the reason some people think. This is not a matter of denying the miraculous.
It’s more like the prophecy-fulfillment reading is insufficient. It’s a bad movie critic’s complaint that the romantic tension of a good romantic comedy is a waste of time. Just give us the kiss at the end and quit making us uncomfortable with waiting and tension and conflict.
The prophecy-fulfillment reading of Matthew’s birth story is like a montage of kiss scenes being called a romantic movie. There is so much more going on here than headlines or big screen smooches. And as we delve into meaning, we’ll find the actual romance of the five fulfillments of Matthew 1 and 2 much more satisfying than precise prognostication.