Based on: Matthew 1:18-25
In our gospel for today, we read about Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph. What was going through Joseph’s mind? What kind of emotional ups and downs did he experience at that time before Jesus was born? First, he was going to get married, and that in itself would cause excitement and anticipation. But then he finds out that his wife-to-be seems to have been unfaithful. She is pregnant. How can this be? Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, and I don’t think he would’ve picked a wife that wasn’t also a God-fearing person. Mary certainly didn’t seem like the type that would cheat on him, but eventually he decides that he will break their engagement promise and send her away quietly.
Then comes the really big news. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and says, "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." Now what emotions is Joseph feeling? Not only has he found out that Mary was in deed faithful to him, and that he should marry her after all, but this baby inside Mary was God himself. What the prophet Isaiah had promised was coming true – Immanuel, God with us. God was living among people.
The angel told Joseph that this was the work of the Holy Spirit. A new baby was formed in side of Mary’s womb. Was this Mary’s child? Absolutely, this would be Mary’s son and would share her DNA. If we saw that two of them together we would probably see some resemblance. But this baby had no earthly father and medical science says that is impossible. Even though it is totally incomprehensible to us – this baby is God himself. We can’t even with our small minds comprehend God let alone how God could be contained within Mary’s womb. What is totally inconceivable to human beings was conceived in Mary’s womb. If we had been there on that first Christmas morning, just moments after Jesus was born, we could have pointed to that little baby and said, “There is the creator of the universe and the eternal Son of God.”
In this little baby the infinite God became a finite human being. The God who knows everything would have to learn how to talk and how to walk. The all-powerful God who provides every living thing with food and shelter would have to depend on Mary and Joseph for clothes, foot, and a home.
As utterly inconceivable as this miracle is, God sent the angel to tell Joseph who this baby was, and Joseph believed. We can tell Joseph believed because he acted in a way that showed he believed. He did what the angel told him to do. He took Mary as his wife and by doing that he took away the shame that Mary would have to endure for appearing to be adulterous. Now also Jesus would appear to be the legitimate son of Mary and Joseph and yet Mary and Joseph would know this baby is God.
What about us? Do we fully understand what that word "Immanuel" means? If we truly grab on to that one word and what it means for us with all our heart and soul, strength and mind, then all the glitz and glamour with which this world celebrates Christmas would mean nothing. This one miracle outshines everything the world has to offer, all its gifts and all its pleasures. It would certainly be on our mind constantly. But it isn’t, and that is why there had to be an Immanuel.
There had to be an Immanuel, a God with us, because we couldn’t be with him. Our own sin prevented us from being with God. The very fact that we are not constantly thanking God for this miracle is proof of we are sinful human beings. Perhaps one moment we talk about celebrating Christ’s birth on Christmas day and then the next moment we yawn in boredom. Perhaps we find it all too easy to look right past the manger scene, and yet we see those gifts with our name on them under the tree. This is what it means to be a sinful human being. And because of that sin, there is no way for us to be with God. So God came to be with us. He is Immanuel, God with us.
He had to come to us just as he did. He could not come to us in his glory and power. We couldn’t handle it. It would be terrifying. We would be instantly destroyed. Instead he came in the most unterrifying and unassuming form that he possibly could. He didn’t even come as one with power or authority or wealth, but as a helpless baby, born in a stable, to parents with little social standing in the world. He still had all the power of God, but for a little while he kept it hidden so that he could be Immanuel, God with us. He is a lion who comes to us as a gentle lamb.
Why would God do this? God is so far above us. Why would he come down to our level, to be with us? The answer is in the name that the angel told Joseph to give to this baby. The angel said, "You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." This name Jesus means the Lord saves. It is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament. This baby to be born was God with us, Immanuel, in order to be Jesus, the Lord who saves his people from their sins. Because Jesus is a human being he could take our place on this earth and live a perfect life for us. Also because he is a human being he could die on the cross and suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins. Because he is also God, his life and death counted for all of us. All our sin, even for the times we don’t marvel at or thank God for this wonderful miracle of Immanuel, God with us, is all forgiven.
Yet there are some who say this Jesus is not God. The world and even some within the Christian church do not believe this miracle because they cannot understand how God could become a human being. They refuse to believe it. Here is one quote from J. Schoneberg Setzer who claims to be a Lutheran:
“The most basic sense, therefore, in which Christians can speak of the divine sonship of Jesus is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God because he, as well as every other human being, has been created with the potentiality to enter into fellowship with God.… Too often we imagine that Jesus was to be the only Son of God on earth.”
In other words, we can be a Son of God like Jesus was. He is saying that Jesus is no different than any of us! He wrote this in a book called, “What’s Left To Believe.” A very appropriate title because if what he says is true then there is nothing left to believe! There is no point in celebrating Christmas. There is no point in being Christian. There is no point in studying God’s Word, because if Jesus Christ is not the one true God “with us” – if he is like the rest of us, then our sins have not been paid for. If our sins have not been paid for then we are going to hell just like everyone else. This kind of thinking is all too common in the world.
But Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. We can be certain that he is also Jesus, the Lord who saves us from our sins. This same Jesus also promised that he would be with us and to the very end of the age. He promised that before he ascended into heaven. So God, who came to be with us as a little baby is the same God who continues to be with us even as we go through our daily lives and serve him. He continues to be with us in good times and in bad times. He continues to watch over us and keep us safe. But most of all he continues to be with us to forgive us.
This same Jesus who came to earth as a baby will come back in a way that we can see him. He will come to be with us so that we can be with him.