Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ” (Matthew 1:18–25, ESV)
(Thanks to Paul Robinson, Concordia Journal, Volume 36, Number 4, Page 365-366)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Are you afraid of angels? Well, maybe you should be. After all over the past few weeks we’ve heard about angelic visits in the accounts in the bible leading up to Christmas and they all seem to elicit the same response. The first thing the angels say is “Fear not!” Just look at what happens to people when angels speak to them. The Magi traveled great distance. Young Mary would have a very special baby. Joseph was told to go ahead and take Mary as his wife in spite of how the local town’s folk’s tongues would wag. When angels speak peoples lives are turned upside down. When angels speak, important God events, life changing events happen. We should be afraid, especially since we so often value the world’s stuff rather than God’s. We should be afraid because we bask in the glow of technology, security, and the honor and praise of today’s society.
Just look at Joseph again. He decided to save his reputation and divorce Mary quietly. It was the right thing to do. It would save him the embarrassment from those who would count months. But there’s more. Joseph was also very concerned for Mary. A public accusation would lead to more than public embarrassment for her it was more than a matter of loss of honor, but likely a loss of her life. The quite divorce would allow her to flee to another place where the child could be born in secret. But this isn’t what God had planned. The angel’s words to Joseph turned his life upside down. He was told that there was more going on here than meets the eye. He was to marry his betrothed just as he had planned, but not just for her sake, or his, but because it was all part of God’s plans to save the world. This child, unique in every way, is more than a human being. He is God himself, Immanuel, God-with-us, born to save God’s people from their sins.
Joseph took the angel’s words to heart. But that didn’t make things easy. How did he explain the baby to his friends and family? We don’t know. The marriage didn’t end his troubles either. They were required to travel to Bethlehem when Mary was far along in her pregnancy; a crowed town that afforded no shelter for his family; and a nighttime flight to Egypt to protect the child from the murderous King Herod. The announcement by the angel was just the beginning.
All of this trouble points to the whole purpose Jesus is born. It all points to the cross. Martin Luther says the text here is the creed. “…conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…” and soon after follows the cross. “For as soon as the Christian life is begun or anything else of Christ, the next thing, the cross, is at hand.” (WA 27:475-76)
In our lives the cross is always at hand. We see it very clearly at this time of year. The season of joy is often interrupted by trouble. We let our focus shift from Jesus born for our forgiveness, to what we are told is much more important; success; comfort; money; things. These can never satisfy. They leave only the desire for more. The season of joy is often interrupted by sorrow and loss. The empty place at the table, the missing loved one, weather it is the first year or the tenth, is highlighted by the season. Fake joy doesn’t fill the emptiness. The season of joy is often interrupted by uncertainty. Every year it seems that the true God, found in Jesus Christ alone, is more and more sidelined. How long until we are forced to choose him or our way of life?
But just like Joseph we have the word of God in the midst of all this trouble, sorrow, and doubt. The words spoken by the angel to Joseph were not only for him. It is good news for all people. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
This promise, God-with-us, stands even today, even as the Christmas season brings fear, pain, trouble, doubt and loss. It stands because God-with-us is God himself come to deliver us from the cause of it all. Jesus Christ, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried.” Again Luther makes it plain:
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord,
who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,
that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,
just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
It is because of cross and Jesus death there for the forgiveness of our sin, that this season is really a season of joy. Forgiveness sets us right with God. Forgiveness sets us right with each other. And forgiveness is what the angel is telling Joseph is about to come. This is the real reason for the season. This is the real joy. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.