Matthew’s account of the annunciation to Joseph, which we will hear this coming Sunday, is not found in any other Gospel. Mark does not have a story of the annunciation. Luke tells us of the annunciation to Mary. John, who emphasizes the pre-existence of the Word, does not have any narrative of the nativity.
Matthew, a Jewish Christian who probably lived in what is now Syria, is trying to teach his mixed community of Jews and Gentiles just who Jesus is. What does Matthew say about the identity of Jesus? By focusing on Joseph instead of Mary, Matthew affirms Jesus’ legitimate birth. By tracing Joseph’s genealogy to David, he teaches us that Jesus is the Son of David. Born of a woman, Jesus is Son of Man. Matthew declares that Jesus is the Son of God by using prophecy and by giving Jesus the name “Immanuel.” Matthew repeats that “God is with us” at the end of his Gospel, when he commissions his disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20).
In Scripture, the name “Immanuel” is found only in Is. 7:14 and Is. 8:8, 10. The Church applies this prophecy to Jesus. In the context of history, Isaiah may have been referring to a son of King Ahaz, possibly to Hezekiah. Alternatively, since the prophet has two sons with symbolic sons, the name “Immanuel” may be that of the prophet’s own son. In Is. 8:8, 10, the name refers to the entire people, whose land will be conquered by the Assyrians.
Why did Matthew apply the name “Immanuel” to Jesus? As far as we know, Jesus was never called by this name. The angel tells Joseph in his dream: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). In Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel tells Mary to name the child Jesus, but does not give the reason. Gabriel says: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Lk. 1:31). The name “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua,” which is a common name found in various forms in the Hebrew Scripture. It means “savior,” as we read in Sirach 46:1: “Valiant warrior was Joshua, son of Nun, aide to Moses in the prophetic office, Formed to be, as his name implies, the great savior of God’s chosen ones, To punish the enemy and to give to Israel their heritage.” Joshua, son of Nun, was a great warrior who saved his people from their enemies. Only in the New Testament is the Savior the Son of God who “will save his people from their sins.”
The name “Immanuel,” God with us, may then seem to be unnecessary, since Jesus already has a name. On the contrary, however, it is a reminder that God’s word is to be kept; we are to trust in God’s presence. While the name itself does not appear elsewhere, the concept is. In Psalm 46:8, 12 we read twice: “The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.” In his being with us, we know the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy, the God who reveals repeatedly, as in Ps. 103:8-10: “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in mercy. He will not always accuse, and nurses no lasting anger; He has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our wrongs deserve.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.