131222 Matthew 1:18-25

Last Updated on Monday, 23 December 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Theme: Immanuel Is With Us

See if you can figure out what the following statements have in common: "You can observe a lot just by watching." "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." "We made too many wrong mistakes." "It's deja vu all over again." And the ever popular: "It ain't over till it's over."

All of these famous (or infamous) quotes came from the mouth of Yogi Berra, longtime catcher for the New York Yankees. In fact, Yogi Berra made so many of these quizzical statements (called Yogi-isms) during his career that they have been compiled in a book with the fitting title: "I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said."

The previous statements have even more in common than their source. They are all redundant. They needlessly repeat information that has already been clearly stated. Predictions are always about the future. Mistakes are always wrong. Nothing is over until it's over.

Some people might say that the season of Advent runs the risk of being redundant. The church year sets aside four consecutive Sundays to prepare God's people for Jesus' coming. We add an additional three midweek Advent devotions that focus on essentially the same subject. By the fourth Sunday in Advent, it would be very difficult for us not to know that Christmas is almost here.

In all fairness it should be mentioned that repetition is not always a negative. In business there is something called the principle of redundancy, which states that if you repeat information enough times to the people in your target market area, they will eventually remember what you have to say.

With that principle in mind, I have chosen a sermon theme this morning that is purposefully redundant. In our text, Jesus is called Immanuel. Immanuel is the combination of two Hebrew words that simply mean: "God with us." If we were to use the English translation of that name instead of the name itself, the sermon theme would sound like this: "'God With Us' is With Us."

The fact that God is with us cannot be repeated too many times. The fact that God came down to earth in human form to rescue the world from sin is something that we can never hear enough. So if you will pardon the redundancy, we make our final preparations for Christ's birth today and take great comfort in the knowledge that...

Immanuel is With Us

I. He is with us miraculously
II. He is with us prophetically

Can you remember what you dreamed about last night? Whether you are the kind of person who is able to recall every detail or the kind who rarely remembers a thing, I think almost everyone has had the following experience.

Something is dominating your thoughts, so much so that you are unable to think about anything else. Maybe it's a deadline at work. Maybe it's a problem at school. Whatever it is, you can't put it out of your mind. You can't even escape when you go to sleep because somehow it tunnels its way into your subconscious and becomes a part of your dreams.

Do you think it's possible that Joseph had this experience as he wrestled with a very difficult decision? He was happy. He was engaged to be married. He was looking forward to the future. But then he learned that Mary was pregnant, and he knew that he wasn't the father. He was upset. He was troubled. He was hurt.

In Israel, engagement (or betrothal) was tantamount to marriage. Even though Mary and Joseph were not yet living together as husband and wife, it was still necessary for Joseph to obtain a certificate of divorce to end the marriage. But Joseph was a righteous man. He didn't want to expose Mary to public disgrace. He didn't want revenge either. Because he didn't want to make a bad situation even worse, Joseph decided to send her away quietly.

Just when Joseph had made up his mind, the Lord decided to change it. The Lord sent an angel to Joseph in a dream, a dream that he would not soon forget. The angel said to him: "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" (1:20).

The angel knew who Joseph was. The angel knew what Joseph's problem was. And with one miraculous statement, he gave Joseph's problem a divine solution. It was true. Mary was pregnant, but her pregnancy was not the result of man's unfaithfulness. The child in her womb was the direct result of God's faithfulness.

In the Garden of Eden, God promised to send "the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15)" to crush the serpent's head. That promise was passed down from generation to generation, from fathers to sons, from Abraham to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, from Jacob to Judah. As a son of David, Joseph believed that a Savior would come from his ancestor's royal line. But Joseph had no reason to suspect that the Lord had chosen Mary to give birth to the promised Messiah.

Imagine how Joseph's feelings must have changed as the angel's words sank in. Besides the relief he felt knowing that Mary had not been unfaithful to him, besides the excitement he felt knowing that their marriage plans could go forward again, God had chosen him to play a role in the most important birth in the history of the world.

We call this miracle the virgin birth. Mary was Jesus' mother, but there was no human father. Even though we can't understand it, we believe it in our hearts. Even though we can't explain it, we confess it in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary..."

It's a common dilemma today for parents today. The expecting couple goes to the doctor's office, and when they do they have to decide if they want to know the sex of their unborn child. Joseph didn't have to make that decision, but not because there were no ultrasounds in ancient Israel. Joseph didn't have to make the decision because God made it for him. The angel's words prove that Immanuel is with us...prophetically.

The angel told Joseph: "She will give birth to a son" (1:21). It was a miracle that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. It was another miracle that this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Here is yet another miracle. The angel revealed to Joseph that Mary's unborn child would be a boy.

And we can add to that impressive list of miracles the fact that this birth was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'—which means 'God with us'" (1:22,23).

Those words were originally spoken by the prophet Isaiah. The Lord sent Isaiah to assure King Ahaz that he would protect Judah from its enemies (in spite of the unfaithfulness of Ahaz). And the Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove it.

In a show of false humility, Ahaz refused because he said that he didn't want to put the Lord to the test. In reality, Ahaz refused because he had already decided to ask Assyria for help. And so Isaiah responded: "If you won't ask for a sign, the Lord will give you a sign." "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

Isaiah didn't live to see the ultimate fulfillment of those words, but seven hundred years after he died God did become one of us. In a stable near Bethlehem, a virgin gave birth to a son. The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in the birth of God's Son.

At this time of year, it is natural to think about Jesus' coming to live among us. While it is very comforting to know that Jesus took on human flesh and lived on this earth two thousand years ago, it is also important to remember that there was never a time when he was not with us.

When we are in danger, when we are afraid, we can say: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4). When we are unsure about the future, when we feel like we are all alone, we can take comfort in Jesus' promise: "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). Our Savior always was and always will be Immanuel, "God with us."

But Immanuel was not the only name the angel used to describe this child. And Isaiah was not the only one who prophesied about him either. The angel told Joseph: "You are to give him the name Jesus" (1:21). The Hebrew equivalent for "Jesus" is "Joshua," and both names mean "The Lord Saves." It was not uncommon for Hebrew parents to name their son Jesus/Joshua as a testimony to God's promise to send a Savior.

But when the angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus, that name was not merely symbolic. It was prophetic: "You are to give him the name Jesus," the angel said, "because he will save his people from their sins" (1:21). From Joseph's perspective, the angel's prediction was a promise for the future. From our perspective, it is a prophecy fulfilled because...

We know that Jesus has lived up to his name. Jesus is our Savior. He saved us from sin. He saved us from death. He saved us from the devil. And because Jesus lived a perfect life for us and died on the cross in our place, we are the people of God.

In the Christmas story, Joseph is what we might call the silent partner. None of his words are recorded in the gospels. Jesus' mother remains involved in Jesus' adult life, but his father fades out of the picture. For these reasons, Joseph can easily be forgotten.

But when it comes to the people of the Bible, no one is cast in a more favorable light. Based on the limited information we have about Joseph (and none of it is negative), there is a single word that perfectly describes him, his attitude, and his relationship with God: trust.

When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he didn't take matters into his own hands. He put his trust in the Lord. When the angel asked him to believe that Mary's pregnancy was the result of a miraculous conception, Joseph took the angel at his word and took Mary into his home. When the angel prophesied that this miracle child was the long-awaited Messiah, Joseph wasn't skeptical. He gave the Savior of the world a Savior's name, Jesus.

For all these reasons, Joseph is a man who must not be forgotten. Instead, he serves as a model for us on this final Sunday in Advent. Like Joseph we put our trust in the Lord. We trust that God is still making all things work out for our good. We trust that the Savior whose birth we celebrate at Christmas will come again in glory.

In two short days it will be Christmas Eve. In our church and in Christian churches around the world, people will gather to hear the familiar Christmas account recorded in Luke 2. And congregations will sing traditional Christmas hymns like "Joy to the World" and "Away in a Manger" and Silent Night."

Even if we have heard the story of Jesus' birth so many times we can say it from memory, and even though we have probably sung these Christmas songs hundreds of times, no one will be complaining come Tuesday evening. In fact, people might complain if those things were not included in our Christmas worship because we look forward to them.

When it comes to the Christmas gospel, there is no such thing as redundancy. The good news that a Savior has been born is something that will never grow old. And as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, allow me to add one more piece of welcome repetition, a prophecy that gave Israel hope, a miracle that brought Joseph joy, a name that gives us peace. Immanuel, "God with us," is with us. Amen.

 

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