Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 1st chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 18th verse.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
—Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you've done for us in Christ. Now as we open that word we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
“The Incarnation of Jesus”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are soon to celebrate one of the greatest mysteries of Christianity. God takes on human flesh by being born in a stable in Bethlehem. Our Creator takes on human flesh and blood in order to save the very creatures that ruined his perfect world. Would seem improbable that such an even would ever happen. It does. Seems impossible for God to become human. This, too, happens. Humanly speaking God becoming flesh is still a mystery. “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). We cannot explain all of God’s technical details of this miraculous birth. Such is the nature of miracles. Thankfully scriptures detail the facts essential to our Christian faith.
IMMANUEL HAS COME. Miraculously. Prophetically.
As the night chilled the air and the moonlight, perhaps, sifted between the clouds to spotlight here and there over the landscape, Joseph lie sleeping… And an angel came to him to announce a big thing coming in a small way. Reading from Matthew’s gospel: “But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”
Joseph lay sleeping, but what had his day been like before he took his night’s rest. We don’t know, but we can make some suppositions. We can guess at what a day—a most unsettling day—might have been like for Joseph. It may have been like this…
Joseph stood by his woodworking table that was standing to the side of the house under a thatched canopy that offered some relief from the relentless sun. Sweat beaded over his brow as he worked a piece of wood into a yoke to be sold to a local farmer.
“Ouch!” A sliver jammed into Joseph’s hand, right at the base of his thumb. He was not paying attention… once again he was thinking about Mary, his fiancee. She was going to have a baby, and it wasn’t his. She had told him stories about angels, and that the child within her was a special child. A child from God.
Although Mary had always demonstrated strong character and had always maintained her virtue with him and from what he could tell, was a moral and honest women, the story she wove around this pregnancy stretched his confidence to the extreme.
He would need to deal with this quietly. He, a virtuous man, could not marry her, but he did not want the situation to come to the attention of the religious authorities. That could literally mean Mary’s death.
How could she have allowed this to happen! And the story that she told; that an angel had said that this child would be a boy… to be named Jesus… that He was destined to be great, called the Son of God, and to be given the throne of his ancestor King David.
This was just too much! Who could believe this, even if it came from a woman as solid as Mary?
Still, just the other day he was talking with some other men of Nazareth and the topic was once again about the Messiah who they, and most Israelites, felt was going to return soon. Could Mary be carrying the Messiah?
But the Messiah would come as a mighty warrior king, not through a common women of Nazareth! No, not his Mary, perhaps from the family of Caiaphas would come the Messiah, but not from common people. Mary should have thought of another story. And yet, it was just like Mary to tell the truth, even if she would not be believed.
Well, so much for our suppositions. We know that Joseph doubted Mary’s account of her becoming pregnant, and we know that it took an angel to come to him in a dream and set things straight.
So Joseph takes Mary as his wife. The day comes when he and all of Nazareth are informed that they must return to their place of birth to register for a Roman census. “Cursed Romans,” Joseph must have muttered to himself, “forcing me to take out my wife and her special child on a long journey at the end of her pregnancy!”
There is no indication that Joseph ever connected the prophecy from the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient daysbe ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
And there is a word from the Lord to us in this: When we go through difficult times, like Joseph being forced to travel with Mary at the critical point of her pregnancy, we can trust God to be working out His will—a sovereign purpose stretching back beyond our birth… from everlasting to everlasting.
We need not say, “God if you loved me, how can you allow this to happen!” Just think of Joseph. What if he had muttered along the way, “God, how can you allow this to be happening to my Mary and this special child? Maybe the angel in my dream was not real, but really just that—a dream? How could You allow this to happen if this child, to be named Jesus, is to be really special?”
Yet working high above Joseph’s understanding was the LORD, fulfilling His word of prophecy, and all the time the sovereign Lord knew that He and His angels would keep Mary and Joseph and the child safe from the hazards of travel and thugs along the way. All the time God knew where Jesus would be born, and that Joseph and his family would be kept safe.
Well, the day came for the birth of baby Jesus. Was it a quiet night like the Christmas hymn suggests? No—it was bustling with life! But I’ll not say much more on that, for I’ll be telling you all about the situation of Jesus’ birth in my Christmas sermon.
But what about us? Are we tired of Christmas, so that it has become like a “Silent Night” within our hearts? The years go by… Trees decorated go up and trees undecorated go down and we too easily begin to hush within our hearts the wonder of that day which we celebrate. How easily we forget that the angels were so electrified by what was happening that they could not contain themselves within the heavens. At the birth of Jesus they ripped open the barriers between heaven and earth to walk among the children of men and tell… and tell… and exclaim the excitement!
The day of the Savior’s birth was not hushed. Armies had gathered. The soldiers of evil hoarded… dark principalities that watched silently… dominions of Satan hiding in spiritual darkness, unaware that they were being tricked by the vulnerability they saw.
A baby being born, who they recognized to be the son of God. We know that the demons were first to recognize the true identity of Jesus. “How foolish the Patriarch of Heaven,” they may have hissed, “to clothe His Son in mortality! Doesn’t He know that Satan as the prince of this world is the master of torture and death over all flesh!”
Satan and the demons must have drooled at the sight! In heavenly glory God had been inapproachable and beyond any of their black arts. But now He was clothed in flesh… Now he could be hurt… Now He was in the reach of Hell’s weapons. How could this little child ever stand against Satan and his dark armies?
And we know that Satan had already planned his first attack against the Son of God. He placed the demon of murder into the heart of Herod and Herod dispatched his men to kill the first born of Bethlehem. But an angel of light foiled the plot. Jesus was taken to safety in Egypt.
But this was only the first round. Satan in his dark pride was confident that he would take apart the flesh of this child—this insignificantly born Messiah of God.
Little did Satan know that high above even His understanding God had fashioned in this child the heart of a warrior. A little baby, yes, but with a heart of strength and steal that would forge His own purity and righteousness into weapons far exceeding the arsenals of hell.
Yes, the little warrior would grow, continually assaulted by the weapons of hell—often wielded within human hearts—until Satan finally seemed to destroy Him on Calvary’s mountain.
There Jesus, no longer a baby, but just as precious to the Father in heaven as a baby held in loving arms… There the beloved son of God—the warrior of heaven—is broken piece by piece under the weapons of hell.
And He dies… and just as He dies, when Satan thought he would experience the greatest pleasure of His existence, demons from hell arrive saying that the doors of hell have been broken down. The Son of God is not dead, but he is routing hell, and cannot be stopped!
And Satan wailed the cry of a condemned soul whose neck is stretched onto a guillotine as the blade is released… knowing that it was just a matter of time… just a matter of time…
And three days after his death, the Warrior returned, spoke with us, and then went into heaven. And in my mind I hear the angels cheering as He entered its gates—GATES NOW FLUNG WIDE OPEN to receive all those who would be washed clean in His blood… to gather all those robed in His righteousness… to accept all those terrible sinners forgiven in the oceans of God’s grace through faith in God’s mighty warrior against evil, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us pray: Lord of all life and all seasons, help us open our hearts to hear the words of promise and love that you send to us. Like Joseph, may we trust in your abiding love and power. Prepare us to receive your gift of grace and peace. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.
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Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by David Anderson.
Immanuel, who is God with us, has come miraculously and prophetically.