December 23, 2019
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.Matthew 1:18-25
When you get to know someone really well, you can tell when they have been in a certain place just by the signs they leave behind. You know when your kids have been into the Christmas presents early because a corner has been opened and there has been some attempt at patching the hole. You know when your spouse has been doing some Christmas shopping because the savings account has taken a huge hit, or you are on a first name basis with the Amazon delivery person. When you know someone, you get to know how they act and the signs they leave behind. In our gospel reading from Matthew 1, Joseph knew God, but he was having trouble recognizing the virgin birth as the sign that the Father sent his promised Son.
Everything was falling into place for Joseph and Mary coming together in marriage until he found out she was already pregnant. The couple was pledged to be married as we read in Matthew 1, which meant that they were more than engaged, but not yet living together as husband and wife enjoying the blessing God reserves for husband and wife given in Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” At the time of Mary and Joseph, their pledge carried more weight than engagement today. They had already made some public promises, and even though they were not living together or had a public celebration of their marriage, breaking off the marriage would cause legal, religious and social damage. Yet, Joseph had the right to break it off, since Mary was found to be pregnant and the child was not his, but he also did not want her to be publicly disgraced. He was in difficult spot, until God revealed the baby was the sign of the promised Savior.
The only way for Joseph to be free from his guilt over thinking of divorcing Mary and her child was to have his eyes opened to who the child was. God recorded how he opened Joseph’s eyes in Matthew 1:20, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” Joseph’s mind had been filled with all the possible outcomes of his situation, until God stopped him from thinking and showed him what to put his faith in. The angel addressed Joseph as a descendant of David, the King of Israel. Joseph’s distant ancestor was one of the reasons Mary was pregnant with the Son of God. The right to property and to rule was passed down through the Father, thus even Jesus’ stepfather, was to be from the line of David. In this way, Jesus was the rightful heir to the throne of David, the throne of Israel, as prophesied in Isaiah 9, 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” God put Joseph’s mind at ease so that he could go ahead with marrying Mary who was carrying the promised Savior.
God gave the virgin birth as a sign to the sinful world. If any of us would have been in Joseph’s position, we would have had the same need for our minds to be put at ease because the first thought when you see a pregnant woman is not that she is a virgin or that the child is from God. All of us need God to give us faith to recognize and believe the miraculous things he does to save us because we are sinful. Your sin stands in the way of your faith. It blocks you from understanding what God has done for you. In the case of our reading from Isaiah 7, we read how sin had completely cut Ahaz, King of Israel, off from God. Ahaz was ruler of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, and a descendant of King David. He had every opportunity to believe in God but rejected God. At this point, in Isaiah 7, he was facing war with two other kings and deserved to go into battle without God and be defeated for his wickedness. Yet, because God is faithful to his promises, he did not allow Ahaz to be defeated. And, he gave this prophecy as proof that God would keep his promise to preserve the kingdom of Israel, 14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This prophecy was kept by the virgin birth of Jesus, whose parents were both descendants of David. And, therefore, Jesus is the true and eternal king of Israel, of God’s people, not limited to those by physical descent, but God’s people by faith. This point was echoed by Paul in Romans 9, when he said, 8 “In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: ‘At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’” Just as God had promised Abraham and Sarah would have Isaac, even though they were too old for children, and through Isaac was descended King David. So also, through the miraculous virgin birth, God kept his promise to save his people.
For you and me, the sign of the virgin birth makes sense by faith. Without faith, the virgin birth is confusing and strange, but with faith it fills your heart with comfort. When you hear Isaiah’s prophecy from seven hundred years before Jesus was born, and when you hear that the Holy Spirit allowed Mary to become pregnant, you like Joseph believe. You trust that this is how the Savior’s work to save us began. In John 1:14, we hear, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is Immanuel, which means God with us. Jesus, the eternal Son of God had to become one of us in order to save us.
The angel who appeared to Joseph revealed who the son in Mary’s womb was through his name. The angel said to Joseph, 21 “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus was common at this time and was taken from the Hebrew name, Joshua. However, the name Jesus means “God saves,” so for Jesus the name revealed who he was and what he would do. Matthew echoed this by quoting Isaiah, 22 “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” In order for our sins to be taken away, to be free from death, to have our blind eyes opened, to free us from living a few decades in this world and then facing death filled with fear and dread, God became one of us to save us.
The good news of Christmas is the coming of Jesus our Savior. In our reading from Romans 1, the Apostle Paul gives all credit to God for this gospel message, the good news about Jesus, writing, 1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” In these few verses, we see Jesus as both the Son of David and the Son of God. He was human like you and I, but true God holding the power of life and death in his hands. We are saved from death through Jesus because of his sacrifice of a perfect life keeping of God’s law without any sin, and we are saved for life because of his resurrection, guaranteeing our resurrection to eternal life with him in heaven.
Seeing this as the true reason for joy at Christmas comes from hearing the message. Joseph would not have kept Mary as his wife if God had not sent the angel to share the good news with him. King Ahaz did not trust in God, but he sent Isaiah to give him the promise of the Savior regardless. You need to hear this message of Jesus to have true joy for Christmas and beyond. You need to hear it because there are times in your life when it seems like God has abandoned you and there is no way out of the situation you are in. You need to hear it because there are times in your life when you have lost any joy in God and you don’t see any point in trusting in him anymore. You need to hear about Jesus because the truth is your life in this world is a situation beyond your control and your life in this world is not going to give you joy. Jesus did not come to this world to make everything right for you for this life, he came to make everything right between you and him. He came to save you from this world, not make it a better place. Your faith is not in signs of God making your life better, your faith is in the signs that marked the coming of Jesus.
When you get to know someone really well, you can tell when they have been in a certain place just by the signs they leave behind. God uses his Word to give us faith and tell us who he is. By fulfilling his promise to be Immanuel, God with us, the Son of God and Son of Man, to give his perfect life as a sacrifice to save his people from their sins, we trust in Jesus. By fulfilling his promise to send the Savior to be born of a virgin, we trust in Jesus as our Savior. By God’s grace through faith we recognize the sign that the Father sent his promised Son and through him we have eternal life in heaven. Amen.