The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 18, 2022
Come, Lord Jesus— as Immanuel!
18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man, and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel— which means “God with us.”
24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When you and I think about the Bible’s account of Christmas we almost automatically zero in on the inspired and inspiring words of Luke chapter two. Many of us have stood in front of a congregation on Christmas Eve and recited the words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world” (Luke 2:1). Personally, I can’t even imagine a Christmas Eve service— especially a children’s Christmas Eve service!— where Luke chapter two does not play a central role! The details of Luke’s account of the birth of our Savior are lovingly engraved on our hearts and minds: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke2:6, 7). “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Our sermon text for this final Sunday before Christmas focuses our attention on the other inspired account of our Savior’s birth— the account recorded by Matthew. The reason we are studying this portion of Scripture today is because it contains details concerning Jesus’ birth that are not found in the Gospel of Luke. To be even more specific, the reason we are studying this portion of Scripture today is because it gives us a clear, beautiful, and powerful conclusion to our sermon series— Come, Lord Jesus! Let’s listen closely as Matthew enables us to say: Come, Lord Jesus— as Immanuel!
As I mentioned moments ago, Matthew’s account of Christmas includes details that are not found in the more familiar account by Luke. One of the most striking differences is that God the Holy Spirit has Matthew put much more emphasis on Joseph. That focus becomes clear in the opening verses of our text. Matthew writes, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Try to put yourself into Joseph’s sandals. As a “righteous” man God’s holy revealed Word guided and directed both Joseph’s heart and his life. When Joseph found out that his beloved Mary was pregnant he was faced with an extremely difficult decision. God’s Law gave him the right to divorce his wife on the basis of adultery. Joseph, however, knew that this would expose Mary to “public disgrace.” At the same time Joseph knew that he belonged to “the house and life of David.” This meant that Joseph was part of the bloodline from which the Promise Messiah would come into this world. To have his wife give birth to another man’s child was unacceptable. So out of love for his Lord and out of love for Mary Joseph planned to “divorce her quietly.” While this would be heartbreaking for both Joseph and Mary, in Joseph’s mind he had no other choice.
Praise God that we know what comes next! God the Holy Spirit has Matthew reveal to us, “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. 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.’ 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.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
As a “righteous” man Joseph did not hesitate to do what the Lord his God had told him to do! By immediately taking Mary home as his wife any and all possibility of rumors concerning Mary’s Child would be removed. As a “righteous” man Joseph now understood his role in God’s Plan of Salvation for this world. Joseph would have the privilege of being the legal father of Mary’s Child. As the legal father Joseph would have the privilege of giving Mary’s Child His “official” name, the name Jesus. As a “righteous” man Joseph would have the privilege of raising Mary’s Child with the full understanding that he was raising, “Immanuel”— the One promised through the prophet Isaiah, the One who is in every sense of the word— “God with us”!
We can only imagine the conversations that took place between Joseph and Mary as Immanuel grew inside of her. We can only imagine how listening to God’s Word as it was read and explained to them in the synagogue service each week now had even greater impact on both Joseph and Mary. We can only imagine the awe and the wonder and the humility that overcame them more and more as Mary’s Child grew inside of her. What we don’t have to imagine is Joseph and Mary’s faith in the Child who was to be given the name “Jesus— because he will save his people from their sins.”
As descendants of great King David both Joseph and Mary were very familiar with what the Lord their God had revealed in His holy Word. They had learned how Adam and Eve had rebelled against the Lord and brought sin into and onto the entire human race. They had learned how the descendants of Abraham had been set apart by the Lord to be His Chosen People— not because they were “better” or “different” from all other people but only because of the grace of their God. (See Deuteronomy 7:6-8) They had learned how over and over again that God’s Chosen People were unfaithful to the Lord and unfaithful to the covenant God had established with them and because of that unfaithfulness the Lord disciplined His people by allowing the Assyrians, the Babylonians and now the Romans to conquer them and rule over them. They knew that since they too were sinners and since there was nothing that they or anyone else was able to do to save themselves in His grace and in His mercy the Lord, the God of Israel, promised to send someone to save them. They knew that all of the Lord’s promises were now being fulfilled in Mary’s Child— Jesus, Immanuel, “God with us.”
“You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Those are words that we would all do well to take to heart as we are preparing to once again celebrate the birth of Mary’s Child. While Christmas is a time of joy and happiness and celebration it is also a very clear and powerful reminder to us that we are sinners. When we look at the way that we treat other people, when we listen to the way that we talk about other people, when we examine the priorities of both our heart and our life it quickly becomes clear how far we have fallen short of the expectations our God has set for us. All too often we don’t love God the way that He deserves. All too often we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. All too often we put our wants ahead of other people’s needs. All too often we trust in ourselves more than we trust in God. We needed someone to “save us from our sins”! We needed Mary’s Child! We needed Jesus, Immanuel!
Why can we trust that Jesus is the One— the only One— who can save us? Because Jesus is “Immanuel” which means, “God with us”! Our Savior had to be true man so that He could live a perfect life for us and then endure the punishment that we deserve for our sins! (Pointing to the cross) At the same time our Savior had to be true God so that His innocent suffering and death was sufficient to pay the debt of sin we owed to God. That’s why Jesus, the One who would “save his people from their sins” also had to be Immanuel— “God with us.”
Come, Lord Jesus— as Immanuel. We believe those words— right? We believe what we confess here in church week after week after week, namely, that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”— right? We believe that the Child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate truly is “God with us”— right? Then we need to make sure that what we confess with our mouths is visible in our day-to-day lives— right? How do we do this? Let me suggest two ways.
First, our belief, our conviction that Jesus, the One who “saves us from our sins,” is indeed Immanuel, “God with us,” will lead us to listen to Him as He speaks to us through His holy inspired Word. Any time anyone says anything that contradicts what our Savior says to us— no matter whether it is a family member or a friend, no matter whether it is our society or our government— we listen to Immanuel, “God with us.” People have all kinds of ideas and all kinds of opinions on all kinds of topics from the Creation of the world to the seriousness of sin to all of the social issues that are so hotly debated in society today. But if any of those ideas or if any of those opinions contradict what the Bible says, as Christians we listen to Immanuel, “God with us.” We cannot allow the confession we make here in church to be contradicted by what we openly or quietly say we agree with when we are not in church.
Second, our belief, our conviction that Jesus, the One who “saves us from our sins” is Immanuel, “God with us,” will lead us to live the way that He (Pointing to the cross) wants us to live! This will have a powerful impact on everything from the language we use to the music we listen to and the movies we watch. This will determine everything from the way that we prioritize our life to the way we utilize the material blessings our Savior gives to us.
Our conviction that Jesus, the One who “saves us from our sins” is Immanuel, “God with us” is what gives us comfort as we hear Him say to us, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew3 28:20). This is what gives us confidence when we hear Him say to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). Our conviction that Jesus, the One who “saves us from our sins” is Immanuel, “God with us,” will lead us to overcome any man-made logical hurdles when it comes to what our Savior does for us and for our children through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and what our Savior gives to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Come, Lord Jesus— as Immanuel! My prayer this morning is that those are not just words we sing in one of our favorite Christmas hymns, but rather those are words that we believe in our hearts and reveal our lives.
To God be the glory!