The Sunday After Christmas December 30, 2007
91(1-4, 8, 9), 85(1-3, 13-15), 114, 87
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Dear friends in Christ,
In times past, names of children were chosen with greater significance than they generally are today. For example, the name, Erickson literally meant, Erick’s son. Many of the names of the people in Scripture have significance to the things surrounding their birth or who they were. For example, Joseph, sold by his brothers into Egypt, named his first son Manasseh, which means “making forgetful.” Joseph gave this name to his first son in Egypt because, he said, “God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” The significance of names in Scripture is nowhere more meaningful than the names which belong to the baby born in Bethlehem on the first Christmas.
There is a large number of descriptive names given in Scripture for our Savior (Today’s Old Testament reading listed several). Two of the more frequently used names are Jesus and Christ. Jesus is our Savior’s personal name. Christ is a name that refers to His office and the work He would do. Christ means, “the Anointed One.” God’s Anointed One, “the Christ,” was the promised Messiah chosen to redeem sinners.
The name, Immanuel, is neither a title of an office nor a personal name. Rather, this name is descriptive of who Jesus is. Jesus is in every way, “God with us.” If Jesus were not Immanuel then the names Jesus and Christ would lose their importance and value as well. It is for our comfort and joy that THE BABY IN BETHLEHEM IS IMMANUEL I. He is the Son of God, II. He reconciles with forgiveness, and III. He is for us.
Joseph was faced with a delicate problem. He had been betrothed to a woman named Mary. The betrothal consisted of words of promise together with a monetary pledge. These pledges were made before witnesses. The betrothal was the beginning of the marriage in nearly every aspect. In order for the betrothal to be broken it would require a formal divorce according to the laws of God. The only difference between the Jewish betrothal and marriage was that the betrothed couple did not live together as husband and wife until the actual marriage time. The marriage took place as much as a year after the betrothal.
Joseph’s delicate problem was this: He found himself, or we could say he found Mary, in an unexpected state. Mary, the one to whom he was betrothed, was pregnant. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child…then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” [v.18-19]
What could Joseph do but conclude that she had been unfaithful to him? Joseph is described as being a just man, that is, he wanted to do what was right according to God’s Law. Joseph, in view of Mary’s apparent unfaithfulness and his own desire to keep things pure, no longer wished to go forward with the marriage and could rightfully seek a divorce according to God’s Law.
Joseph had one of two options in proceeding with the divorce. He could present his case to the people, publicly charge Mary with unfaithfulness, and be released from his bond. Or, Joseph could quietly present Mary with a certificate of divorce which would not even state the charge against her. As Joseph faced the situation he could not go forward with the marriage, but in love and tender compassion did not wish to publicly declare Mary an adulteress and expose her to public shame. So Joseph decided to quietly end the marriage and let it be done in a discreet way.
As Joseph struggled over what he should do, God sent an angel to him in a dream. The angel gave Joseph a message which would lead him to a completely different conclusion and put his mind at ease concerning Mary’s faithfulness. “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS.” [v.20-21]
The angel assured Joseph that Mary had not been unfaithful but that she was specially chosen to be the mother of the Savior. Therefore, Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary to himself and live together with her as husband and wife. Furthermore, all of this had been set into motion and would be completed in order to fulfill a prophesy in Isaiah: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” [v.23]
Consider a brief summary of all that was going through Joseph’s mind. First, Mary seemed to have been unfaithful, but that didn’t fit with what he knew about Mary. Yet, how could you ignore the obvious? Then, he had a special dream and an angel spoke to him and said that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Isaiah had prophesied that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son. Mary was a virgin, but was going to have a son. With this information from Scripture, Joseph could conclude: “This is the fulfillment of God’s prophesy!”
This was a lot for Joseph to accept, but in faith he believed the angel’s message for we hear, “Joseph being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.” [24-25]. All three of the things which Joseph did were connected to the angel’s message and all three demonstrate his trust. First, Joseph took Mary as his wife instead of secretly putting her away. Secondly, even after they were married, Joseph did not physically come together with Mary until after Jesus’ birth, for the prophesy said, “a virgin will conceive and bear a son.” Thirdly, Joseph gave Mary’s son the name, Jesus, just as the angel had instructed him.
Joseph’s side of the Christmas story—what he was going to do, what the angel told him, what he did do—points out that Mary was indeed a virgin. Jesus had no human father. The truth of Jesus’ virgin conception and birth is so very important. If Jesus was born of a man and not conceived by the Holy Ghost then He is just a man and He ceases to be Immanuel—GOD with us.
If the baby in Bethlehem is not God then the shepherds and later the Wise Men, all committed idolatry because they worshipped someone other than God. If that child is not God then our faith is in vain because His sacrifice on the cross has no value. No one less than God could offer a sacrifice to redeem us from our sins, “[No one] can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of their souls is costly” (Psalm 49:7-8).
Jesus is true God. The angel Gabriel told Mary that her child would be the Son of God. An angel told Joseph the same truth. Angels told the shepherds. God’s announcement through His messengers was the same in each case: This child is Christ the Lord. He is God! It is beyond comprehension or understanding that the child born in a manger whose birth we’ve celebrated is God, but nevertheless, it is true. He is God’s Son and He is Immanuel—God with us.
Jesus was “God with us” in a very observable way when He was on the earth. He became a man and lived and walked among mankind on this earth. It is a miracle that Mary could conceive and bear God’s Son. It is a miracle of God’s power that He could use Mary and bring God and man together in a child, conceiving a son who was fully God and fully human, but who did not inherit the sin of His mother, Mary, as any other child would have done.
This miracle of power is in itself an amazing, mind-boggling thing. But there is another side to the miracle which makes it all the greater. We appreciate the depth of the miracle when we see it also as a miracle of God’s grace. God’s Son became man, lived as a man among men, and died on the cross for all people. God lived with us on this earth and died for us, His sinful and rebellious creatures. Sometime, stop and think about that for awhile. It is hard to grasp the full impact of it. The apostle John explains it in simple words, but yet to fully comprehend the depth of what he writes defies human reason. John wrote: “The Word (the Son of God) was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The truth that Jesus is God and lived on the earth for a time is only part of the “with us” in Immanuel. The fuller meaning is found in the purpose for which He came to earth: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” [v.21] “Jesus” means Savior. Joshua and Hosea are two Old Testament forms of the same name. Other sons had been given that name before, but none with the same significance as this one. This Jesus was Immanuel which meant He was the Savior!
This Jesus was the promised king who would come from David’s line. The angel addressed Joseph as a “son of David.” Even though Joseph was not Jesus’ true father, yet in the eyes of the law he was. Jesus’ lineage for legal purposes was established through Joseph, a descendant of David. This made Jesus a legal descendant of David, and therefore, a rightful heir to the throne of David as king of Israel. This Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that his descendant would rule forever. He was also the fulfillment of what Gabriel told Mary: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 2:32-33).
This Jesus was the promised Messiah and King, but not an earthly king as so many dreamed. He came to go into battle and bring peace to his people, but not an earthly peace. He came to battle the sins of mankind and to battle Satan and to die on the cross. When Jesus was only a month old, Simeon told Mary that Jesus would be hated and that a sword would pierce her soul (cf. Luke 2:35) as it surely did when she watched her son die on the cross. Yet, His sacrifice was absolutely necessary in order that God might be “with us.”
We are at enmity with God and apart from Him because of our sins. There is no “God with us” as long as the guilt of sin is with us. “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2). We alienate ourselves to God because of our constant rebellion against what He commands. The child in Bethlehem is the link between us and God. He makes us God’s children and brings us to Him so that we can be with Him. Jesus brings us to God by providing forgiveness from all our sins.
The Son of God came to be with men in order that He might live a perfect life for them and die for their punishment. He came so that He might buy sinners back from sin and death and be with them and they with Him forever as His special people and heirs of eternal life. “[Our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people” (Titus 2:14).
In all of the activity that the nine months of pregnancy held for Mary and Joseph, and all of the events of Christmas itself, and all of the Christmas events for the shepherds and anyone else who heard, and then all that happened when the Wise Men came—one thing was the same for each one of them. The child which brought them all together was their Savior. He was named Jesus and lived up to His name because He would reconcile them to God by dying on the cross and bringing forgiveness. Once reconciled, God would be with them and with us as our dear Father. The child is Immanuel, God with us.
It is important that we take away from the Christmas accounts the truth and all of its significance that Jesus was truly born of a virgin. It is of equal importance that each one of us can say after hearing the Christmas account that He who was born of a virgin is my Savior. If you believe that Jesus is the virgin’s son born to be the Savior of the world, then believe that He was born for you. The child lying in a manger so many years ago, lay their for you. If you were to walk away from Christmas feeling that all of what you’ve heard is fine for the shepherds and everyone else who was there, but it doesn’t mean much to me. If the Christmas Gospel is not for you, then it becomes just a story and a sermon that needs to be preached once a year but when it’s all over you are left the same as before. It is important that we see Jesus as Immanuel—God with us—God with you, with me, with each one of us.
All of these things happened 2,000 years ago. That is a long time. How many people do you know whose birthdays are celebrated 2,000 years later? After that length of time the individual is long gone and the birth date long forgotten. Christmas as a birthday is worth celebrating because the One who was born is living and still with us today.
Jesus, our Savior, who was born in Bethlehem, announced by angels, and has long since re-ascended into heaven is as much Immanuel today for us as He was to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Peter, James, John, and the other disciples. The sacrifice He made is for all sins of all time so that through Him you too are reconciled to God and He is with you.
Jesus, is our Immanuel in a very practical day-to-day sense. It is the joy of each new day to wake up to the mercies of God which are always new. The gladness of today is knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you have a home in heaven. This gladness today is also the gladness for each new tomorrow as long as your life goes on. Jesus, Immanuel, has promised that He will be with us always. He is God with us so we can say with Paul, “If God be for us who can be against us” (Romans 8:31). Nor is it strange that Isaiah, the same prophet who spoke of the coming Immanuel, would also record these words: “Be shattered, O you peoples, and be broken in pieces! Give ear, all you from far countries. Gird yourselves but be broken in pieces; Gird yourselves but be broken in pieces, take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak the word, but it will not stand, For God is with us” (Isaiah 8:9-10)
O holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels,
the great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel. [TLH 647:4]
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.