Christmas December 22, 2019
87, 136, 98 (Worship Supplement 2000 #712), 647�(WS #710)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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
Let me begin by asking you to think about a rather unusual question: If you were to give “God” as a Christmas gift, what do you think that gift would look like? How would you “package” God if you were to give Him as a gift? Probably very large and magnificent, right? Perhaps we imagine that He would be glorious, radiant, and impressive. We might assume that He would come in such glory and power that the entire world couldn’t help but take notice. You would think so, wouldn’t you?
Isn’t it rather strange to consider that when God was given to mankind as a gift it was in such a “small” and unassuming way? It is astounding to think that the gift of God Himself—Immanuel: “God with us”—would come in the form of a tiny baby, in an obscure little town, in a small barn usually used to house animals! Yet that is how God gave us the greatest “Gift of Christmas,” the very meaning and reason for Christmas itself, JESUS, His own Son.
We find in our text that even the earthly parents Jesus would be born to were very unassuming and humble people as well. Both Mary and Joseph humbly submitted themselves to the will of God despite the incredible and even difficult circumstances the LORD had called them both to go through. Verse 18 of our text tells us, “After His [Jesus’] mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) Luke’s Gospel gives us even more details about her situation. He tells us that Mary, an unmarried young virgin girl, was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would miraculously conceive and bear God’s Son, the promised Messiah (cf. Luke 1:26-38). How did Mary respond? “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).
Our text also tells us that Joseph, the man whom God had chosen to be Jesus’ earthly father, was a humble and faithful servant of God as well. Verse 19 tells us that Joseph was “a just man.” (Matthew 1:19) Now, this does not mean that Joseph never sinned. Rather it refers to his relationship with God. He was “just,” that is, “righteous” in the sight of God through faith in Him. He was also visited by an angel of the LORD. In a dream the angel told Joseph some news that would have been very difficult to believe: “While he thought about these things [“putting Mary away secretly,” that is, ending their betrothal in a discrete way], 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.” (Matthew 1:20-21) What was Joseph’s response to this unbelievable news? Our text tells 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.” (Matthew 1:24-25)
While Mary and Joseph are incredible examples of humble faith in the LORD and His promises, their faithfulness is not the point of these Gospel accounts. God’s faithfulness is! Mary and Joseph are not the focus of Christmas, JESUS is!
The purpose for which God sent JESUS as His greatest “Gift” to the world is found in the very name of JESUS. The angel explains in our text, “…you [Joseph] shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The name JESUS means “Savior.” The angel’s words make it very clear what kind of “Savior” JESUS would be: “He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Jesus did not come to be the political or military “Savior” that many of the Jews of His day had been hoping for. The salvation He came to bring was not a rescue from some form of government or an earthly kingdom, but rather a rescue from death and hell itself! This is what JESUS came to bring us because God knew that was our greatest need.
One of the best Christmas cards I’ve ever read had this message in it: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so he sent us a Savior.” (Roy Lessin)
Of all the “Gifts of Christmas” JESUS truly is the greatest! He is the one who brings us all the other “gifts” that we’ve been considering in our sermons this Advent season—“Hope,” “Joy,” “Grace,” “Peace,” and “Salvation.” JESUS truly is the greatest gift because His story doesn’t end with Christmas. God didn’t just send us a baby that stayed in the manger. He sent us a Savior! This Savior would live every day in obedience to His Father’s commands for us. That is how He gave us the gift of His righteousness. This Savior would be crucified for our sins on a cross. That was the cost of God’s Christmas gifts to us. That is how He gave us forgiveness. This Savior would also rise again. That empty tomb was the guarantee that these “Gifts of Christmas” had been paid for in full. That is how He gave us everlasting life.
Thank God that His gift of JESUS didn’t end at Christmas! Don’t make this Christmas the end of your “story” with Christ either. He has these “Gifts of Christmas” waiting for you every day in His Word and every week here at His house—“Hope,” “Joy,” “Grace,” “Peace,” and “Salvation.” He wants to strengthen us, draw us closer to Himself, and keep us prepared and watchful. For Jesus, God’s greatest “Gift of Christmas,” is coming again—soon! This time all nations will see Him. This time He will be glorious, radiant, and impressive beyond description. This time not as a child, but as the King of Kings! And once again He will be bringing “gifts”—heaven and eternal bliss in the presence of God to all who believe in Him. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15) Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.