If I say to you, “May the force be with you,” you’re likely to think about Luke Skywalker and the Star Wars movies. But someone unfamiliar with those films will have no idea what I’m talking about.
Similarly, if you hear people at the start of a baseball game sing, “O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” you know they’re singing the national anthem. But if you didn’t know anything about American culture, you might be very confused and wonder, “Why is everyone in full chorus asking me about my eyesight in the early morning hours?”
The ancient Jews, however, didn’t have baseball, Hollywood, iTunes and Netflix. Their popular culture was shaped by their Scriptures. The stories of the Bible were what permeated their daily lives — what they talked about, what they heard in the synagogue, what they pondered in prayer and what they celebrated and re-enacted in various feasts throughout the year.
Especially in his accounts about the newborn Christ Child, Matthew in his Gospel assumes that if he just quotes one line from an Old Testament story or makes a few simple allusions, readers will make the connection, just like we do when we hear famous lines from favorite songs, movies and shows today.