Fourth Sunday in Advent (Matthew 1:18-25)

Our Gospel reading falls nearly at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel.  What comes very first is the introduction: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1)

Recall the promise given to Abraham: “In you and in your Offspring, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3) What is that blessing?

Prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen describe blessing as good things happening to you—good gifts abound in health, wealth, good government, good friends, and the like.  If there’s bad, it’s just a momentary setback. As long as you stay positive and hopeful you’ll make it through and then God will bless you again. This makes God no more than a vending machine for good things and a coach to encourage you to live you “best life now.”  What a bunch of malarkey!

If you want to know what blessing is, this portion of the Gospel explains what that blessing through Abraham’s son is.  There’s a reason the Holy Spirit inspired the Evangelist Matthew to write in the way he did. But it’s not a straight line to see the blessing:

“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

Joseph found himself in a position not too unexpected in the world: his fiancée was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.  The most likely explanations were 1) that she had been unfaithful or 2) she was the victim of a wretched crime. Joseph, being a righteous man, didn’t want to sin to ripple into the community and bring God’s judgment and the damage from this to spread like a crack on a windshield.  So, he set his mind to do the least damage: end the betrothal quietly. This amounted to a divorce, breaking the marriage contract between the two families, and it was a shameful thing but it was the least of all the evil possibilities.

This is the world with which we’re all too familiar—broken promises, abuse, people taken advantage of, theft, and on and on.  This is all too often what our lives, our friendships, and our family’s lives look like.  

Yet, God intervenes to show that this is not business as usual: “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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

This is God stepping into this world of sin—our sins and the sins of others—to save us from them.  The Name Jesus says what the blessing of Abraham is. The Name Jesus, or Joshua/Yeshua means “God saves.”  He will save the families of the earth from their sins.

He saves our families—our broken family ties, divorces, betrayals, what we’ve done and what we’ve failed to do.  Certainly our lives are pockmarked with betrayals which have cut us to the heart, left us in misery, robbed both of peace and property.  But notice how the angel puts it: “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Of first important is that He saves each of us from our own sins.  When you’re a pastor, the topic of sins comes up a lot in your company, but one of the most common ways is to talk about other people’s sins.  You can’t trust anybody, the government has failed us, the doctor was a quack.  What about you?  What are your sins?  You can’t have healing or peace until you start confessing your sins, and not another’s.  Jesus can’t save you from other people’s sins. But He most certainly can bring God’s blessing to you—you who have profaned God’s Name by how you’ve lived and talked, you who have defamed others by your words, you who have been unfaithful and lazy.  

He is not God far off, telling you to deal with it yourselves.  He is Immanuel, God with us; God-Who-Saves with us.  God with us to come into the midst of our chaotic and broken lives with His mercy and grace, and give us peace in heaven.

He is God with us so that we have the peace to forgive and do good to those who have sinned against us.  Think back to Joseph, who faced what was an agonizing decision. He is called a “just man” who was unwilling to put Mary to public shame.  Even though the best guess he could make was that she had betrayed him, he didn’t want to smear her reputation and see her stoned. He was ready to forgive and do good, even to the one who—in his estimation—had ruined his future by sleeping with another man.  That was all before the angel announced God’s work.

This is an example to us of God at work in the lives of His people.  Hopefully you have your own stories of God working in you, turning you from selfish desire, from spitefulness, from greed in hording your wealth, and other evils.  He is God with us, and we are blessed forever by His coming. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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