Monday, December 20, 2010

Sermon - Matthew 1:18-25 - Advent 4

Matthew 1:18-25
Advent 4
December 19th, 2010
“He will Save His People”

You will call his name Jesus, because he will teach his people how to live holy lives? No. You will call him Jesus, because he will be a great example of righteousness for people to follow? No. You will call him Jesus, because he will show you the way to please God and earn your salvation? No. You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin. That's it!

We've heard from John the Baptist – proclaiming Christ in boldness, and questioning him from prison – We've seen Mary and Elizabeth and Zechariah – all part of the unfolding story of Jesus' birth. And now we hear what the angel said to Joseph.

You can imagine, perhaps, what Joseph was going through. He was just beginning this new phase of his life. He had been betrothed to Mary – a fellow descendant of David and a godly woman. Betrothal, in those days, was much more than what we know as being “engaged”. Joseph and Mary were legally married – but in this initial stage of marriage, there was no consummation. That would usually happen after about a year of betrothal.

So you can see why, when Joseph finds out she's pregnant, he naturally assumes the worst – that Mary was unfaithful and – and decides to divorce her. Quietly – because he was a righteous man – but divorce her nonetheless.

But God intervenes. He sends a messenger, an angel, with an important explanation. Joseph is convinced. Like Mary, he receives the word of the angel in faith. And the marriage is saved. And all is now ready for the birth of the Christ.

God always tends to the details. He either guides the events of history from behind the scenes, uses the happenings of this life for his purposes, or even steps in noticeably when he needs to – miraculously, even – to make sure his will is done. And the important part of that will has to do with Christ.

Since man's exile from Eden, God had promised a savior. He preserved that promise through wars and famines and calamities of all kinds. He used the twists and turns of his people's lives, their relationships, even their sins – to preserve his promise and bring about this day – when His own son would be born of a woman. Everything fell into place just as he promised, and just as he planned.

It must have seemed to Joseph that the rug was pulled out from under him. His exciting new endeavor of marriage was tainted. Mary wasn't who he thought she was. What was pure had been polluted. But oh, how God sees things differently.

In Mary, who was a sinner like Jospeh and like all of us, nonetheless in her womb now grew the sinless Son of God. Joseph's life wasn't being ruined here, it was being saved in a more profound way than he even knew. And the marriage of Joseph and Mary would be saved even as True Bridegroom was about to visit his Bride in person – yes, Christ would come to his people. Immanuel – God with us.

But best of all, this long-expected child would save his people from their sin. That's why Jesus is born. That's why he came. That's why we celebrate Christmas. It's not even so much that in Christ, God is with us – it's that God is with us to save us from sin!

Whatever Joseph thought his problems were, the angel set him straight. Sin is the problem. Sin is always the problem, for all people. And Jesus, this child of the virgin, is the only answer.

There's no shortage of opinions today on what the birth of Christ meant or means. For some it's as shallow as a Hallmark card, peace, love and goodwill. For others it's as fleeting as a warm fuzzy feeling that, even for a moment, brings back fond childhood memories. And for others its a sense of self-satisfaction about being kind and generous to others.

But the Angel says it best. He's Jesus. He's here to save us from our sins! That's it! That's the point!

Listen to that angelic message closely today. Whatever is going on in your life – don't miss out on what God has done, and is doing for you in Christ. Don't forget who this child is and what he has done and what it means for you. He's Jesus!

Joseph and Mary had a tough road ahead of them – and I don't just mean the trek to Bethlehem. Joseph would work as a carpenter and earn his daily bread. Mary would endure the questions to her character, and the inconvenience of raising a child on the run, even to Egypt. And later, after Joseph is gone, she would suffer the horror of watching her own son die, crucified as a criminal. But even here, especially here, he is Jesus. He is saving his people from their sin.

It's not pretty. It's not soft and warm and sanitized. Salvation comes in the blood and sweat and anguish of God's Son and Mary's Son. It's all the ugliness of sin wrapped up into one body – and that body bearing the full force of sin's wages for all.

There is no Christmas without Christ. And there is no Christ without the cross. There's no manger scene apart from a crucifix. No Bethlehem without Jerusalem. No savior born unless he is born to die. And there is no salvation for sinners like you and me, without Christ crucified for sinners like you and me.

And of course, the cross of Christ means nothing without the resurrection of Christ. So Christmas and Good Friday and Easter – all speak the same to us: Jesus. He who saves us, his people, from our sins. And here is our true Christmas joy. Here Joseph's Savior, Mary's Savior, everyone's Savior – in Jesus. Immanuel. God with us.

Advent now closes. Christmas is almost here. And we are prepared to celebrate his birth because we know who he is. He is Jesus. He's our Savior from sin. Believe in him always! Amen.

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