Click here for the reading: Matthew 1:18-25.

Matthew opens his Gospel with a list from Abraham to Jesus, but it includes a notable problem. Biblical descent is reckoned by the father, and Joseph is not the father of Jesus. Yet before we have an opportunity to protest, Matthew resolves this issue in the second half of this chapter. Why should the question of whose son Jesus is matter to us? How should Christians approach things which appear problematic in the Bible? How does Peter approach difficult passages in Paul’s writings at the end of 2 Peter 3?

Joseph assumes, quite naturally, that Mary is pregnant by adultery. According to the Law, he would be perfectly within his rights to not only divorce Mary, but also to have her put to death. Yet Joseph is a just man and chooses to simply divorce her quietly, so as not to shame her. What does Joseph teach us about mercy? What does Joseph teach us about the purpose of God’s Law, especially since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law? What does Jesus teach us about mercy in John 8:1-11?

In the crucial moment, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him to not be afraid, because the child is from the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of Isaiah, the angel commands him to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus. Where else do divine dreams appear in Scripture? How significant are they in the history of God’s salvation? How do Joseph’s struggles with Mary’s pregnancy mirror our own occasional doubts about God’s work and promises? Where can we find answers to these doubts? Contrast Joseph’s doubt regarding Mary with Abraham’s faith regarding Isaac in Genesis 22.

As Matthew emphasizes over and over again in his Gospel, all of these things happened in fulfillment of Scripture. The prophecy of Isaiah 7 given to Ahaz points toward this moment, because she who knew no man has become the mother of God. Why does Matthew tell us repeatedly that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament? In what way is that important for us Gentiles, since these promises were not first made to us? How should we approach the fulfillment of prophecy in our dismissive age? What does Paul mean that Jesus is the “Yes” and “Amen” of God’s promises in 2 Corinthians 1?

Few passages of Scripture are as well known or beloved as this one. From hearing it read aloud to listening to it proclaimed at Christmas programs, we often assume that we have learned everything we need to know about it. What other passages suffer similar misuse? How should Christians approach these passages which they know very well so that they do not miss its message? What portions of this passage would you highlight in order to make it seem less familiar so that we can hear it rightly? Compare seeing the familiar in a new light with Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 and the veil of 2 Corinthians 3.