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

Anton Raphael Mengs Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream (1773-1774)

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.

Mary the Virgin Mother (Matthew 1:18-25

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday of Advent + December 18, 2016
Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Review: In the genealogy of Jesus, there are certain names which stand out.  The Holy Spirit is drawing our eyes to these five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.[1]  During the midweek services, we’ve been exploring why these women appear in the human lineage of the Savior.
When it comes to the lives of the other women and the men they partnered with, we can relate.  They’re flesh and blood, human, sinful, messy lives—family drama, war, marital unfaithfulness.
But when it comes to the story of Mary, absolutely none of us can relate to how Jesus was conceived.  It’s beyond us.

  • None of us has had an angel announce the birth of their child. Yes, a few of the barren women of old have had angelic announcements, but none were without a husband (Sarah, Samson’s mother, Elizabeth).
  • Never before and never again has a virgin conceived and borne a son. Genetic engineers may accomplish strange feats, but they will never conceive a child without a human father.

But Mary’s story being beyond us is exactly the point.  Sin has so surrounded us, seeped into our pores, and flourished in our hearts, that no natural-born man or woman can do anything to save themselves, much less the entire corrupt human race.
God made it clear that it was beyond our reach when speaking to King Ahaz.  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[2]  The Savior to be born would be the work of God alone.
Yet though He is beyond us, He is also in every way with us—except for sin.[3]  The Son of God enters the world through His mother’s womb, He is born, He hungers, He nurses at His mother’s breasts.  Jesus is raised by His parents and submits to them.[4]  He grows up around relatives, friends, and acquaintances.[5]  He goes to weddings and gets invited to dinner, and mourns over friends who die.[6]
On earth, the occasion also came for Him not to be like us.  He was baptized in the Jordan and visibly anointed by the Holy Spirit and declared by the Father’s voice to be God’s only-begotten Son.[7]  He went about teaching with authority and healing every kind of disease, sometimes even raising the dead.   Then He walked a road alone, one only He could walk, up the hill of Calvary to the cross.[8]  There, the sinless-born Son of Mary died in place of every sin-born son and daughter of the earth.
On the Third Day He again blazed a path that no man could when He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father.  After 40 days, it was He who ascended into heaven to prepare a place for every believer, to dwell in the Lord’s house eternally.  This is God’s fervent desire for every person under heaven.
It’s very fitting that the genealogies in Scripture end with Jesus.  Every person named has a unique story with high and low points.  But none of them could be right with God and find an eternal home without the One who came last.  Even Mary herself, the maiden who bore God in her womb, needed this Savior.  Without a doubt, the only way for any one of us to be a child of God is through Jesus.
Mary made Jesus a blood relative to all these sinners, but Jesus made Mary and all people blood relatives with God through faith.
That’s where you and I fit into the genealogy of Jesus.  We are not forerunners, according to time, but the offspring of faith.  The family tree of God is rooted in Jesus, the God-man, the Savior of the sinful race.  “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”[9]  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ! Amen.
[1] Matthew 1:3, 5, 6, 16
[2] Isaiah 7:14
[3] Hebrews 4:15
[4] Luke 2:41-52
[5] Mark 6:3-4
[6] John 2:1-2, Luke 7:36, John 11:33-35
[7] Matthew 3:16-17
[8] John 13:36
[9] Romans 8:29