Saturday, December 31, 2022

January 1, 2023 -- 1st Sunday after Christmas

                           Biblical Words                                       [805]

Isaiah 63:7-9Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18Matthew 2:13-23. 
The people praise God, but the Messiah is a fugitive among a sorrowing people. 
Isaiah 63:7-9.  
The prophetic reading for the first Sunday after Christmas is a short passage praising the God who acted in the past to rescue the suffering people.  
God’s past saving acts are the basis for hope in the present -- hope that God’s character is true and will again produce a reversal for these needy children of God.  (“Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely,” verse 8, NRSV.)  
This praise of past saving deeds is in fact only the opening of a long and passionate lament for new, urgently hoped-for saving events in the near future.  (The full passage is Isaiah 63:7-64:12 [Heb. 64:11].) 
This lament speaks for a people excluded by Abraham and Israel (63:16), a people who has witnessed the destruction of cities and temple (64:10-11), and a voice heard in extremis at the beginning of Advent (64:1, read for the First Sunday in Advent of Year B).  Such a powerful and impressive lament begins with our exclamation of praise for past saving deeds!  
Though our passage of praise is quite brief, there are two different versions of it in ancient Jewish traditions.  The Greek translation followed a slightly different Hebrew text from the one that became fixed in Rabbinic tradition.  The Greek reads, 
[God] became their savior in all their distress.  It was no elder or messenger but his presence [literally “the Lord himself”] that saved them.  [LXX, which is approximated in the NRSV main text.] 
The Masoretic text reads instead, 

So He was their Deliverer. / In all their troubles He was troubled, / And the angel of His Presence delivered them.  [JPS Tanakh version, and NRSV footnote is similar.]  
The Greek text, used through the early ages by Christians, puts the emphasis on God’s own activity as savior, as distinct from intermediaries such as angels or strong men.  The Masoretic reading puts the emphasis on God’s empathy with the suffering of the people – “in their troubles He was troubled” – and accepts an angelic presence in the actual salvation.  (The King James Version, it might be noted, follows the Masoretic reading.  “In all their affliction he was afflicted, …”  God suffers with God’s elected ones!)   
Psalm 148.  
The Psalm reading is an exuberant and delightful summons to heaven and earth to praise the Lord, to “hallelu” (the plural form) God.  The literary skill exhibited by the composer of the psalm is not complicated but is pleasing to watch as it unfolds.  
In the first section, seven imperatives call upon heavenly things to praise the Lord (verses 1-4), moving from one aspect to another of the heavenly realm.  These imperatives are followed by an exhortation:  “Let them praise …,” which in turn leads to a reason for the praise:  because all these summoned entities were “created” by God and fixed forever.  
The second section (verses 7-13) gives only a single call to praise, but elaborates more fully those to whom it is addressed.  We hear a chain of earthly things, places, and people who are included in this imperative:  components of the earth, elements of weather, the lands, animals, and people, all called on to “Praise the Lord.”  Again there comes an exhortation, “Let them praise the name of the Lord.”  And, finally again, a reason for the summons to praise is given:  because “his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven” (NRSV). 
Does this reason for praise seem too general, too vague?  The poet has completed the original basic structure, but both creative art and faith erupt in a final declaration, a final proclamation of why God is to be praised:  “He has raised up a horn for his people, …for the people of Israel who are close to him” (verse 14).  
This psalm is not about this horn, this pillar of strength to empower the people.  More about it will be heard in other psalms.  This psalm is about the heavenly and earthly realms transformed by God’s gift of such a leader.  
Hebrews 2:10-18.  
The Epistle reading emphasizes the incarnation in the Christmas message.  
A divine son and brother came into the human condition, joining the brothers and sisters soon to be saved, and defeating the powers of sin and death on behalf of those in bondage.  

For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father [literally “are from one (source)”].  For this reason Jesus is not afraid to call them brothers and sisters… (verse 11, NRSV).
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death,… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death (verses 14-15).  
Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect…  Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (verses 17-18).  
The message of the Incarnation is that we are not alone.  One like us, but with power and compassion, has penetrated our condition and has made for us a path to life and new being.  
Matthew 2:13-23.  
The Gospel reading presents the coming of Jesus as re-enacting the sacred history of the birth of Israel.  
There are three episodes included in the reading, each with a prophetic saying that the episode is said to “fulfill.”  
One of the most distinctive things about the Gospel According to Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7).  The Sermon is presented as the Law to be observed by the disciples of Jesus instead of the old traditional law from Sinai.  The Sermon is the new Torah, like the old Torah given at Sinai, and the episodes that precede the Sermon highlight a few moments of the Israelite story before Sinai. 
In all these episodes Joseph is the actor, and he is guided by the messenger (“angel”) of the Lord who speaks to him in dreams.  In the first episode Joseph is told to take the holy baby and its mother to Egypt for safe-keeping – as Joseph, the son of Jacob, went to Egypt before his brothers to save them from famine (Genesis 37-46).  This was to fulfill the prophecy in which God said, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”  (The full verse, Hosea 11:1, reads, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, / and out of Egypt I called my son,” NRSV.)  
The second episode is the “slaughter of the innocents,” as it is traditionally called.  The wicked King Herod corresponds to Pharaoh in the Moses story, who out of fear of the revolutionary threat of the Israelites ordered that their male children be killed after birth (Exodus 1:22).  
Herod, afraid of a new king in Judah, gives orders to kill all the boys less than two years old in the neighborhood of Bethlehem.  Jesus is saved because he is already in Egypt, but many of the sons of Rachel died in the slaughter.  
Rachel, favorite wife of patriarch Jacob, had died and been buried in the vicinity of Bethlehem, where a stone monument marked the mourning rites observed by her descendants (Genesis 35:19-20).  These mourning rites near Bethlehem are referred to by the prophet Jeremiah, whose prophecy is “fulfilled” by this episode (Jeremiah 31:15, which Matthew 2:18 follows very closely.)  
The third episode of the reading is the secret return from Egypt and the migration to Galilee because there was still danger in Judea.  If this has a parallel in the book of Exodus, it must be the flight of Moses from Pharaoh’s death penalty, a flight that took Moses to the land of Midian, where he got a family and eventually found God (see Exodus 2:11-3:12).  
In Matthew, the “prophecy” fulfilled by this move reads, “He will be called a Nazorean” (Matthew 2:23).  Presumably this is supposed to remind the hearers of “Nazareth,” the town where Jesus grew up.  However, nobody knows where this prophecy came from, and even just what it means.  Nevertheless, this episode too is clearly intended to present a prophetic foundation for seeing Jesus as fulfilling Israel’s destiny as a chosen people.  
Joseph, guided by the messenger of the Lord, has carefully preserved the savior of Israel through the threats of wicked men and the tragedies of suffering innocent ones.  

Saturday, December 17, 2022

December 25, 2022 -- Christmas Day

          Biblical Words                                          [805]

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
An ecstatic declaration rings out about a Messiah — to oppressed people and to working shepherds.   
The readings for Christmas Day are all ecstatic declarations. Something awesomely good has happened, and humble people, nations, and all beings high and low are invited to rejoice in it.  
Isaiah 9:2-7. 
The prophetic reading is from Isaiah ben Amoz (about 740-700 BCE).  He speaks of people sunk in gloom and oppression, people who currently know the “yoke” and the “rod” of their oppressor, people who have often seen the “boots of the tramping warriors” and the “garments rolled in blood” (verse 5, NRSV).  They are called people who walk in darkness, who live in a land of deep darkness.  
The people referred to are the people of the former northern kingdom of Israel, people who had been conquered and occupied three decades before by the mighty kings of Assyria (733 BCE, first exile of the northern kingdom).  They now lived as subject peoples in provinces that the Assyrians had created out of their old home territory of Israel.  
However, something has now happened, something that makes the prophet believe that there is extremely good news for those subject peoples.  The age of the great king David is about to return, the reign of the God of David is dawning again for the subject peoples living in darkness.  
The signal that a great change is happening is a birth.  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us” (verse 6; Hebrew verse 5).  A birth — a mere birth!  How can a birth of a child, no matter how high on the status scale, signify such a revolutionary turn as this passage envisions?  
Again, in the time of Isaiah ben Amoz we are probably not talking about a literal nativity. More likely is the kind of birth pronounced in the messianic psalm:  “I will tell of the decree of the Lord:  He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:7).  The speaker is the newly enthroned king, whom God has “today” adopted, “begotten” as son to reign over the rebellious nations who oppose God and his Anointed (Psalm 2:2).  The “birth” proclaimed in the Isaiah good news is the establishment of a new regime, for which great expectations are raised high among the hopeful people.  
There is a new king in Jerusalem.  A divine decision has been made to put an end to the oppression of the peoples (of the old northern kingdom), to establish justice and peace in place of slavery and war.  Because of this new king, there is an ecstatic declaration of new light for people who have been trapped in darkness.  
Under this new king, the oppression will be ended, the debris of war will be disposed of, and there will be the beginning of a true reign of peace (verses 4-5). This king will have some wonderful names pronounced in his honor, including “Prince of Peace” (verse 6). In his reign “there shall be endless peace” and the throne of David will be established “with justice and with righteousness / from this time onward and forevermore” (verse 7).  
It came from Isaiah’s time, but it has become a vision and an ecstatic hope for the ages. 
Psalm 96.  
The ecstatic declaration in the Psalm reading is a “new song.”  This is perhaps the most emphatic of the “Enthronement of the Lord” psalms, those psalms that celebrate Yahweh as King of all creation and source of all stability and justice (Psalms 47, 93, 95-99).  Its punch line as an enthronement psalm is verse 10:  “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!’” perhaps better rendered “The Lord has become king!”  It is an event.  Something has happened (at least in the liturgy).  
The declaration of the Lord’s kingship always has as its corollary a judgment.  “The world is firmly established, …[therefore] he will judge the peoples with equity” (verse 10).  The kingship of the Lord is good news to the oppressed, the victims of injustice, but it is bad news to the oppressors, to the arrogant and those ruled by greed.  
The Lord, who has now appeared, is on the side of the needy and downtrodden.  For them, the ecstatic declaration at Christmas is good news.   
Titus 2:11-14. 
The ecstatic declaration in the Epistle reading is the opening.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all!” (verse 11, NRSV).  
The great event declared as good news always involves change.  Here the change emphasized is not in the outward conditions but in how the saved ones live.  The emphasis is on the consequences of the saving event as they should be developed in the lives of those who have been saved.  These consequences include a “training” in an orderly manner of life, and living with a hope for a greater glory to come.  
The climax of the great event is that Jesus Christ has prepared a people of his own, a people who are “eager to do what is good” (verse 14, NIV translation, avoiding NRSV’s “zealous”).  
The final consequence of God’s great act:  a people eager to do what is good!  
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20). 
In the Gospel reading the ecstatic declaration is by the angels.  That, however, is the climax of the story.  
The narrative begins with an imperial setting.  “In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists.” (verse 1, CEB [Common English Bible]).  The writer of the Gospel has overstated the case a bit.  It may have seemed to the local people that all the world was involved in the census, but in reality the census in question only involved Judea and Samaria.  
The Census.  Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, had ruled Judea and Samaria for ten years after Herod the Great’s death (from 4 BCE to 6 CE).  However, Archelaus was such a tyrant and foolish administrator that the Romans had fired him.  At the request of his own Jewish subjects, he was banished to distant lands (notice: he was not executed) and Judea and Samaria were put under the oversight of the governor of the province of Syria, whose name was Quirinius (verse 2).  Judea and Samaria were now for the first time (6 CE) coming under direct Roman rule, instead of being run by native kings or tetrarchs approved by the Romans.  It was Quirinius, governor of the Roman province of Syria, who took the census of Judea and Samaria in order to establish a realistic basis for taxing the people.  
When this census was taken — and it is the only Roman census of Judea on record — Jesus was already twelve years old, assuming with Matthew that he was born before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE.  For the Gospel writer Luke, the imperial setting of Jesus’ birth was more important than precise chronology.  What people remembered about those times was the census that was taken at the beginning of direct Roman rule.  
The Birth.  As the Gospel presents it, it was this imperial census that caused Joseph to make a trip to Bethlehem, taking along his very pregnant wife.  Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he was a distant descendant of the great king David, who had himself been a shepherd around Bethlehem (I Samuel 17:12-14).  
Descendant of a great king or not, there was no room at the inn.  This little family is pretty humble, consigned in their great need to the barn with the animals.  (The reference to the “manger” establishes this.  That Greek word is used in the translation of Isaiah 1:3, where the donkey knows “its master’s crib.”)  The birth is told in simple terms.  “While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.  She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snuggly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the guestroom” (verses 6-7, CEB).  
The real fireworksthat do some kind of justice to the magnitude of the event, take place out in the countryside, where a bunch of shepherds were on night duty, working where David had worked over a thousand years before.  A heavenly messenger (“angel”) appeared to these shepherds.  It became obvious that this was not something ordinary!  There is a blazing field of lazar light shining around this figure, which terrifies the shepherds.  As is standard procedure with heavenly messengers, the first thing said is, “Don’t be afraid!”  
Then the messenger makes the ecstatic declaration.  “I bring good news to you — wonderful, joyous news for all people.  Your savior is born today in David’s city.  He is Christ the Lord” (verses 10-11, CEB).  The messenger adds that you can identify the right baby by a sign:  he will be found in a manger!   
Then the Hallelujah Chorus breaks out — or more properly, the Gloria Dei Chorus.  A “great assembly of the heavenly forces” declares, “Glory to God in heaven, / and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (verse 14).  
Christmas is a huge claim for a humble event, and this ecstatic declaration to the shepherds reveals the secret that makes it awesome for all of heaven and earth! 

Monday, December 12, 2022

December 18, 2022 -- 4th Sunday of Advent

                                  Biblical Words                                        [803]   

Isaiah 7:10-16;  Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25.   

Births as signs of saving events and the giving of names reveal God's Secret Work. 

Isaiah 7:10-16.  


The prophetic reading is the famous Isaiah passage about the “virgin” and the birth of the child named Immanuel.  In its original eighth-century BCE setting, the meaning of the prophecy was the shortness of time from conception to toddler-hood, and the great change that would come upon the Davidic king in that time.  


The historical situation in Isaiah’s time:  Ahaz, king of Judah and Jerusalem, is under siege by the neighboring kingdoms of Aram (Syria, capital city Damascus) and Israel (the Northern Kingdom, capital city Samaria).  The goal of the enemies is to force Judah to join a coalition of small states to resist the huge power of Assyria, which has been expanding its empire further and further into Syria and Palestine.  If successful, the besiegers would overthrow the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem and place a new dynasty on the throne, headed by “the son of Tabeel” (Isaiah 7:6).  

Ahaz’s choices are (1) give in to the enemies and join the coalition, (2) simply withstand the siege and try to outlast the attackers, or (3) seek diplomatic escape by appealing to Assyria to come and rescue Jerusalem from its enemies.  


Isaiah, accompanied by his symbolically-named son “(only) a remnant will return,” had already delivered a message to Ahaz from Yahweh, telling him to take door number two, stand the siege and trust God to take care of it (7:1-9).  Our passage tells of a second encounter between Isaiah and Ahaz during the same crisis.   

Isaiah tries to convince Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove what is in fact God's will.  Ahaz doesn't want to hear what he knows Isaiah's message will be, and asserts that it is impious to put God to the test.  Therefore, Isaiah insists that God will give Ahaz a sign anyway, and he predicts the birth and the naming of a child.  


The child’s name will be Immanu-El, “God (El) is with us.”   


That is, a woman now (or about to be) pregnant will in a few months name her child “God with us,” symbolizing that deliverance from trouble has taken place.  When the child is a few years old (probably at weaning age when it eats “curds and honey”) the two enemy countries will be no more.   

We may note that this “sign” is not much help to Ahaz, because it will only happen after the issue has been settled.   Ahaz still has to live by faith, or sell out to Assyria (which is what he actually did, II Kings 16:7-9).  


The symbolic name, Immanuel, echoed the deliverance story of the Zion tradition.  In that liturgical drama of the saving of the Holy City from the onslaught of hostile nations, seen in Psalms 46, 48, and 76, the climax was the joyful proclamation that God is with us:  “The Lord of hosts is with us; / the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:11, NRSV).  The hope and expectation of such a deliverance continued down through the ages, evoked by the symbolic name Immanuel (“Emmanuel” in Greek texts, Septuagint and New Testament).  By New Testament times it had created a meaning-world of its own with special reference to the birth of Jesus.  


The “virgin” and the prophecy.  When the Latin-speaking West learned to read Hebrew again after the Middle Ages, it became clear that the Hebrew word for the woman in Isaiah 7:14 (‘almah) means “young woman,” who may or may not be married.  Hebrew has a different word for “virgin” (bethūlāh).  In the second century BCE, when Isaiah was translated into Greek, the key word in 7:14 was translated by the Greek parthenos, “virgin.”  It was this Greek that the Gospel writers read and that gave force to the narratives of the “virgin birth” as reported in Matthew and Luke.  It was only in Greek that the “virgin” birth was a significant “sign.”  

Isaiah's prophecy created a history that ran on into the future to create a whole new spiritual world, the world of the Christian Madonna.   (On the historical development of Jesus’ virginal conception, see Special Comment below.) 


Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19.   


The Psalm reading is portions of a prayer by a people who have been through struggle and defeat.  It refers particularly to the tribes of the Northern Kingdom, using the unusual name Joseph for them (verse 1).  The prayer recognizes that God has brought punishment upon these peoples — “you have fed them with the bread of tears” (verse 5, NRSV).  

The main plea is expressed in a recurring punch line, which increases in intensity on each repetition through the psalm:  “Restore us, O God … Restore us, O God of hosts … Restore us, O Lord [Yahweh] God of hosts,” verses 3, 7, 19.  


What is asked of God with each utterance of this plea is, “let your face shine, that we may be saved.” 


It is a fitting prayer for a people waiting in darkness for Advent. 

Romans 1:1-7  


The Epistle reading is the creedal statement masquerading as the writer’s credentials in the opening of Paul's letter to the Romans. 

It starts “Paul … set apart for the gospel of God,” and proceeds in a complicated sentence to summarize the essentials of the gospel.  

The gospel

(1) was promised before hand through God’s prophets in the holy scriptures;

(2) it is about God’s Son.   

God’s Son

(3) was descended from David, “according to the flesh”;

(4) was declared Son of God with the power of the holy resurrection from the dead;

(5) gave grace and apostleship to the speaker, Paul. 

Paul (6) was made an apostle specifically to the nations [“Gentiles”];

(7) to call the nations to the name of Jesus as the Christ; which nations

(8) include the Roman Christians, who belong to Jesus Christ, though Paul did not originally convert them. 


It is the descent from David that is most pertinent to the Advent reading.  It was to the “house of David” that Isaiah's prophecy was delivered (“Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?” Isaiah 7:13).   

In the long run the good news of the birth of the Anointed One is for the nations, but its channel is through the great symbolic king of Israel who received the promise of perpetual kingship for his family (e.g., II Samuel 7:16).  It is the heir of David who is expected to bring in the coming deliverance from oppression and sins.  


Mathew 1:18-25.  


The Gospel reading is the awesome events preceding Jesus' birth as seen from Joseph's viewpoint, that is, the viewpoint of Mary’s fiancée.   


The story simply tells us, with no elaboration, that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.   This created a serious problem for the upstanding man who was engaged to her, who knew he wasn't the father.  It takes a divine intervention to prevent Joseph from sending her away — making her her father's problem and presumably consigning the kid to adoption or some despised lowly status.  Every step of Joseph’s actions through Matthew 1 and 2 is guided, as here, by a heavenly messenger speaking in a dream.  


The messenger (“angel” in NRSV) tells Joseph who the real father is, and goes on to tell Joseph what to name the boy. 
Jesus, the Greek form of the name Joshua, comes from the Hebrew root meaning to be saved or victorious. The messenger says this Jesus will “save his people,” though the qualification is added that he will save his people “from their sins.”  The implication is that of all the powers that have oppressed and defeated the people, the ultimate or most critical power is that of their own sins.  The beginning of deliverance from oppression and misery is deliverance from sins.  


Since the narrative has now described a “virgin birth,” the Gospel writer gives the first of many prophecies from the older scriptures that were seen as fulfilled in various events of Jesus' activity.  


Here we get the Isaiah prophecy of the virgin conceiving a son who will be called Emmanuel – yet another name for the Spirit-conceived child.  The messenger explains the name to Joseph.  (Two forms of the name are found in English, "Emmanuel" follows Greek, "Immanuel" follows Hebrew pronunciations.)  


Christian tradition from the beginning has connected the "virgin" with the entry of God into a world depressed in misery and darkness.  A deep and subtle cord runs through Christian cultures focused on this mother of the Son of God, who can be called the "God-bearer" in many traditions, particularly Eastern ones.  Some deep cultural roots of that pervasive virginal-maternal theme were probably tapped already by the Isaiah prophecy about the “young woman” — and this theme has carried a mystique that we still feel as the Advent season climaxes.  

Special Comment:  the "Virgin Conception" of Jesus 

On terminology:  Raymond Brown pointed out many times that the Biblical stories are not about a virgin "birth"; they are about a virgin conception.  Only much later in Mariology did the idea develop that Mary was a virgin after the birth. 

In Matthew's narrative the virginity of Mary is itself not emphasized.  The narrative spends its time, not on Mary’s virginity, but on Joseph’s dilemma.  The fact that Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18) creates the problem; it is not itself the big deal.  Later Christian tradition made the “miracle” of the virgin conception a big deal, even making belief in the “virgin birth” a test of true Christians (see James Barr, Fundamentalism, Westminster, 1978, pp. 175-76).  

A Progressive view of Scripture would seek a historical understanding of the virgin conception and its implications for Christian attitudes toward human sexuality, parenthood, and God.   

Broadly speaking, the virginity of Mary is simply a corollary of the impregnation by the Holy Spirit.  For early Christians the important point was that the father was divine.  God — working as the Holy Spirit — was the father.  The whole business of a virgin conceiving by the Holy Spirit is a radical affirmation that Jesus was the Son of God — from birth 

Thus, the virgin conception is one stage in the developing Christology within the New Testament.  When and how did Jesus become (or become manifested as) the Son of God?  Essentially, these are the successive answers:   

  • First, the resurrection made Jesus the Son of God (seen in Romans 1:4).   

  • Later reflection made Jesus’ Baptism the moment of his becoming the Son of God.  (This stage is reflected in Mark.)  

  • Thirdly, in Matthew and Luke, Jesus became Son of God at conception by the Holy Spirit.  

  • And finally, in John's Prologue, Jesus was the Son of God as Logos before the creation 

(Many scholars have discussed this, but see especially Raymond Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, Paulist Press, 1994, Part III, pp. 103-152.)  

Thus, a story of a virgin conception is one way to affirm that Jesus was the Son of God.  The idea of a virgin conception is relatively late in the tradition.  The letters of Paul know nothing of it; the Gospels of Mark and John know nothing of it; it is not mentioned in the later general epistles or the book of Revelation.   While Matthew and Luke both have cycles of birth stories that include the virgin conception, their presentations are completely different, showing there was little common tradition about the matter.  

By the time these two Gospels were written (around 80 to 90 CE), the following points were fixed in pre-Gospel tradition, since both Gospels, in spite of their differences, assume them:  


(1)  the Holy Spirit caused the conception,  

(2)  Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph before the conception;  

(3)  Joseph was a descendant of David;  

(4)  the birth took place in Bethlehem,  

(5)  in the days of Herod the Great.   

For the rest, Matthew and Luke reflect entirely different settings with entirely different people involved.  Local story-telling skills had been inspired to fill in the details according to different settings!  

As to the implications of the virgin conception for Christian attitudes, it is clear that the original Isaiah prophecy, quoted by Matthew, did not refer to a “virgin” at all (see on the first reading above).  It referred to a “young woman” ready for motherhood in the standard manner.  The “miracle” there had to do with the political arena of Jerusalem and Judah, not with the birth as such.  

Somewhere between the eighth century and the second century BCE, the young woman became a “virgin.” We don't know how, but it apparently happened in the Greek-speaking circles of Judean scribes, and got recorded in the Greek translation of the Isaiah passage.  Early Jesus followers in Greek-speaking circles seized on the now virgin-conception as a “sign” and became convinced that it referred to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Their delight at discovering this hidden sign in the scriptures was expressed in the Matthew story of Joseph's dilemma, and, among different poetic believers, in Luke's richly detailed annunciation by Gabriel to the virgin girl of Nazareth.   

As the second century of Christianity developed, believers increasingly came to prize sexual innocence as a sign of purity of faith — whether among women or men.  From that time on a very different attitude toward the virginity of Mary grew, which ultimately became expressed in the idea of her perpetual virginity — right on to her death.   

Human sexuality had never stained her special holiness.  She had to remain utterly pure because the Lord had passed through her body — without breaking a hymen at any stage of the process.  Mary’s future after that is the story of all the Madonnas of Christendom.  

Since the Reformation, Protestants have de-divinized Mary and in many cases have accepted at face-value the Gospel narratives about Jesus’ (younger) brothers and sisters, with no mention of step mothers, cousins, or the like (which were supplied as Jesus’ “brothers” and “sisters” in Catholic tradition from at least the time of Jerome, around 400 CE). In this Protestant perspective, Jesus’ family life would have been standard issue.  Only his status as (unrecognized) Messiah was produced by the virgin conception. 
For the rest we may imagine him a regular son of Nazareth — until a wild-man named John roused him to a different phase of his human life.