First Mennonite Church
December 25, 2016
“You Shall Call Him ‘Jesus’”
Text Matthew 1:18-25
It is common to hear that news about something is rarely known by those who should first know it. In many cases the last one to know about the bad news is the one closest to the object or subject of the news. Shock and disbelief are often what the person experiences in such situations.
What news (good or bad) has ever shocked you? Maybe it was 9/11. Maybe it was getting a letter from someone you had not seen for a long time or even thought had died. For me it was the day one of my cousins committed suicide. It was around midafternoon when one of my cousin’s younger sister passed by my house going to the police station to report of it. She was screaming and her words were barely intelligible. She said. “Pete just shot himself.” I ran over to my aunt’s house and saw Pete on the ground. I was shocked. I could not believe that my cousin was dying before my very eyes.
Shocked! Imagine Joseph when he found out his betrothed bride was pregnant and not of him. Mary’s parent might have already gone through the shock. Matthew is careful to inform us about Joseph’s character. Joseph was a righteous man. Despite the fact that Joseph was a righteous man, most likely he felt fire burning in his veins. Most likely, he had sleepless nights, many questions and doubts. How many women in the past had ever said the Holy Spirit had made them pregnant that Joseph could understand and say to Mary, “Oh, yeah. This is like what happened to so and so.” As hard as Joseph could think and remember, there had never been any incident in which a young woman had gotten pregnant through the “overshadowing of the Holy Spirit;” whatever that means. But again, Joseph was a righteous man. And righteousness is displayed through love, mercy, and empathy for the other. And so Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly. He did not want to further hurt the dignity of Mary, according to their religious and moral principles. What a righteous man! How much more pain can be avoided if we all act righteously, as Christian men should? How often do we act too hastily and without much reasoning only to cause more pain?
Once Joseph’s had decided his plan of action God sent his angel to warn Joseph on the issue of his torment. Joseph was informed what was going to happen and what he should do about it. “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 angel says.
Mary was going to give birth to a baby boy, but Joseph was going to take the role of name-giver. He was to officially register the baby by giving him the name “Jesus.” By doing so, he would have effectively adopted the baby into the Davidic line to which Joseph belongs, thus aligning Jesus into the tribe of Judah.
With this short background, I want to emphasize the meaning of the name of Jesus and his work of salvation, which are the purposes of his coming into our world. The angel said to Joseph that he should give the name “Jesus” to the baby because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew goes further to describe the meaning of Jesus’ birth by stating,
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”).
This Christmas I received a card that in part reads:
If our greatest need had been information,
God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness,
So God sent us a Saviour” (Roy Lessin)
Yet, if God had wanted to prove his omnipotence, he could have shaken the cosmic elements and cast the whole of humanity into eternal dizziness.
If God had wanted to prove his omnipresence, he would have appeared billions of times to humanity in burning bushes in the way he did to Moses or through blinding light as he did to Saul of Tarsus.
If God had wanted to prove his omniscience he could have eliminated darkness from the face of the earth, including the darkness inside our heart, making sure we all understood nothing is hidden before his holy eyes.
But God wanted to prove his love to us that he gave us his only Son to be born in the humblest of ways to very lowly parents as were Mary and Joseph. God’s purpose in giving us his Son Jesus is to save us from our sins. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life, says John.
The world and often times, human traditions have distorted or eclipsed the true meaning of Christmas. The self-promoting and consumerist spirit the world promoted around Christmas time is not only contrary to the meaning we find in the Bible, but actually idolatrous. Sometimes as good and noble Christmas family traditions can be, (like grandparents baking cookies with their grandchildren, gift exchanging, giving out to those in need) yet if these traditions fail to grasp the meaning the birth of Jesus, they miss the central point. The miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ is not necessarily how his birth happened, but what God was doing in favor of his people and the world. Just as in the passion story, the Christmas story God is the actor. God was giving us a Savior. God was providing a way in which his nature, qualities, and working of salvation would become visible, palpable, and intelligible to us human beings. Therefore the coming of Jesus in the form of a fragile and dependent baby becomes intelligible for us. God wanted to connect with us in the deepest manner we can understand. God wanted to identify with us in our fragility, in our helpless state, but most of all, by coming into the world, God wanted to demonstrate his yearning desire to be with us. Through the birth of Jesus the miracle of God being with us became a reality. God is with us! God is with you! He wants to save us from our sins. He wants to free me from the power and consequence of my sinful actions. God want to free you from your sins. In Jesus, God wants to save us. This is the miracle of Christmas.
Today is Christmas Day and I want to emphasize three important lessons from our passage for today.
- Joseph’s obedient role is important in the birth story of Jesus. Just as Mary obediently submitted to the calling of becoming the mother of Jesus regardless of her becoming an immediate scandal, Joseph too obeys by giving the baby the name Jesus. In so doing, Joseph legally brought Jesus to the lineage of David although he was not the biological father. But that is not all about Joseph. Joseph was a righteous man. Being righteous means more than being biblical. Joseph had the right according to the Law of God not only to reject Mary for being found pregnant, but also to accuse her of infidelity and immorality before the authorities. Righteousness means acting in love, mercy and empathy. We can be tempted to quote scriptures in our effort to refusing to do mercy and act lovingly. How so often in our desire to be biblical, we fail to act in the ways of Jesus our Lord. So every often, in our legalistic reading of the Bible we leave Jesus’ words. Joseph later understood what Jesus meant when he said, “You heard that it was said, ‘eye for and eye, but I tell you love your enemies. Pray for those who hate you.”
- The second lesson we can learn is that the Christmas story is grounded in the act of God. For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son. His name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. In this, God proves his love for us, says Paul, in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus was born to prove how much God loves you and me. Let us love him in return this Christmas. Let us accept his work of salvation. Let us lay before him the burdens of our sins and ask him to set us free so that we may worship him without hindrance or fear.
- A third lesson we can learn from this story is the eternal promise of the Immanuel—God is with us. We all need the reassuring word that God is with us. It seems that our world is becoming an even more dangerous place every day. In our personal or family life there are moments and situation when we desperately need to hear those words. I do not know what burdens your heart. I do not know what worries you in the silence of the night. Let me speak to you the promise of Christmas: Jesus is the Immanuel. God is with you my dear loving brother and sister. Receive his promise. Take his peace with you today. Amen!