Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:10-16
When I meet with couples who want to get married, I spend a lot of time with them – helping to prepare them for what they are going to face as a married couple. The joys – the challenges – just about everything that I can share from my own experience after 31 years of marriage. And there is no subject that is off limits.
One of the things that I always touch on is the need of this couple to have a will or some kind of estate planning document in place after they are married. And one of the areas I touch on has to do with any children that might eventually be born to – or adopted by – the couple.
And what I tell them is this. Should children come into your life, you will want to name guardians. Who is it that you want to take care of your children in the unlikely event that both of you should be removed from the picture? Because if you don’t name who you want as your children’s guardians, I guarantee you that your respective families will fight over it. And the state will step in and appoint guardians. And by the way – whoever it is that you want to be your children’s guardians – it would be a good idea that you ask them first.
Well, something like that happened a little bit more than 2000 years ago. God needed to select a couple who would be willing to be guardians – a mother and a step father – for the Son of God.
And that’s what happened. Our Gospel reading involves a pregnancy. A very special pregnancy to be sure. The baby’s mother is named Mary. Now Matthew doesn’t tell us the details that we need to know here. It is the Gospel writer Luke who lets us know that an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she has found favor with God – and that God has chosen her to bear a son whose name will be Jesus. And Mary believes the angel – in other words – Mary says yes to be the mother of the Son of God – and lo and behold – Mary becomes pregnant.
Now here’s the deal. If you know the story, you know that this is no ordinary pregnancy. The child conceived in Mary is by the Holy Spirit. We can only imagine what Joseph thought – Joseph the man to whom Mary was betrothed to be married – what Joseph thought when Mary broke the word to him that she was pregnant.
You see, here’s the problem. Mary and Joseph are betrothed. That means that they are engaged to be married – and in those days it was almost like a marriage. It was legally binding. And if Joseph had died before they had been married, Mary would have been considered to be a widow.
Also understand that in those days, people were betrothed – engaged to be married – did not live together first. Furthermore – there was no intimate, physical relationship – if you know what I mean. So Joseph knows. Joseph knows that the baby is not his. In fact – although the conversation between Joseph and the innkeeper at Bethlehem is not recorded for us – tradition has it that when Mary and Joseph finally arrive in Bethlehem some months down the road, Mary and Joseph approach the innkeeper who tells them there is no room in the inn. Joseph says, “But my wife is pregnant.” And the innkeeper says, “Well – that’s not my fault.” To which Joseph replies, “Well – it’s not my fault either.”
I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. Anyway, back to our text. So when Joseph hears that Mary is with child – what’s Joseph want to do? He wants to divorce her – quietly. Again – it takes another visit from an angel – this time in a dream – to convince Joseph otherwise. That the baby in Mary’s womb is indeed a very special child – that this child is of the Holy Spirit. Only then does Joseph say, “yes,” to take Mary as his wife – and to rear this child to be born as though he were his own.
A fascinating birth – of a miraculous conception – that ultimately lead to a miraculous birth.
But it is not the birth of Jesus that I want to focus on today. Let’s save that for Christmas Eve. What I want to focus on today is the message of the angel to Joseph. In a fulfillment of prophecy from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, we hear the angel say,
“‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.’”
Emmanuel! God is with us!
Now just think about that for a moment. God – our God – the God of the universe – almighty – all powerful – takes on human flesh – becomes like one of us – as a baby. In Jesus – God becomes a man. That is something we would not expect – and he appears in a place we would not expect God to be.
Let me share with you a story. This is a story about Sir “William Lawrence Bragg, who at age 25, the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.
“Bragg was an amateur gardener. When his career moved him to London to head the Royal Institution, he reluctantly left behind the beautiful Cambridge garden he had spent so many years perfecting. Life in a city apartment made him restless and unhappy until he found an ingenious solution to his problem.
“Dressed in old gardening clothes with a spade over one shoulder, he patrolled the streets of a nearby wealthy district until he found a house whose garden tempted him. Then he rang the doorbell and tipping his hat respectfully to the lady of the house, introduced himself as ‘Willie,’ an odd-job gardener with one free afternoon a week. His employer found Willie to be an absolute treasure.
“Alas, one day, a knowledgeable visitor looked out through her window, and gasped, ‘Good heavens! What is Sir Lawrence Bragg doing in your garden?’”
In the same way you and I should gasp, “Good heavens! What is God doing in that stable?”
Now, that suggests that you and I probably would have done things a little differently. But this is what God chose to do. God chose to be among us – to be like one of us – born of a woman – born in a stable – born in a little out of the way place called Bethlehem. Full humanity in undiminished deity.
That’s who Jesus is! Immanuel! God with US! Matthew lets us know through the story of Joseph and his dream that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s “Emmanuel” prophecy.
Like one half of a bookend – here in the first chapter of Matthew we learn that Jesus is God with us. The other half of the bookend comes in the last chapter of the book of Matthew. Chapter 28. The last thing that Jesus says to his disciples is this. “And remember – I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I am with you – always. I am Immanuel! God with us – always.
And then Matthew reminds of that fact in the middle of his Gospel – in chapter 18 – where we hear Jesus say these words, “Where two or three [or more] are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Folks – it doesn’t get any clearer than that. But why has God chosen to be known to us as Immanuel? Why has he chosen to be “God with us?” Well – let me suggest that perhaps – when it comes to us and our salvation – perhaps that was the only way that it could have been done. The only way it would have worked. Perhaps the following will help.
“Pastor Clifford Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Now I’m thinking that this had to have happened some 30 to 40 years ago. And his parents were excited, because they too could now be a part of the instant generation. However, when his dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, they were stumped. They couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Even after reading the instructions, they couldn’t get it to work.
“Two days later, Pastor Stewart’s mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. ‘To get this darned thing to work, I really don’t need better directions; I need my son to come along with the gift!’
Pastor Stewart went on to say, “When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn’t send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; God sent his son.” To show us the way. To be our Savior.
Jesus – Immanuel – is God with us.
Jesus – Immanuel – fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.
Jesus – Immanuel – is the One who is there wherever two or three or more are gathered together in his name.
Jesus – Immanuel – is with you no matter what is going on your life right now.
Jesus – Immanuel – promises to be with us until the end of the age.
Jesus – Immanuel. Past – present – future. God is with us!