Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Tonight we gather together to celebrate the birth of the world’s savior, Jesus Christ. We’ve spent about the last month, the whole season of Advent, hearing the promises of the Messiah through the mouths of the prophets. We’ve heard the assurances of the Apostle Paul that the return of Christ is near, and we’ve heard the preaching of John the Baptist – that we are all sinners in need of repentance and salvation. All of these things, the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in Christ tonight. This evening we meet with joy and expectation knowing that the promises that God has made throughout all time now find their fulfilment in the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and existed before all time but, in order to save us, has now in our time taken upon Himself human flesh. He did this to be Immanuel, “God with us,” and to save us from our sins.
Our text from St. Matthew’s Gospel begins by providing some background to the birth of Jesus so long ago. Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew is of course writing this after Jesus had ascended, but it’s important that he provides context for his hearers. Scholars say that Matthew wrote his gospel to proclaim to the Jewish people that Jesus is the messiah that they had long hoped for. They knew that the Messiah had to come as an offspring of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of the lineage of David – which is exactly what we find as Matthew traces the earthly genealogy of Jesus back 42 generations.
Now, in this list there is a mixture of both good and bad people. Many sermons will focus on that and show that God uses people who aren’t perfect for His perfect plan, and that’s true. But the important part in all this is that it shows us that God keeps His Word, even through 42 generations of sinful men.
But, now at the end of the line, something’s different. A young Mary is betrothed to Joseph, through whom Jesus is reckoned to be descended. Before they had come together she was found to be with child. This child had been conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. Joseph didn’t know that yet, and being a righteous man and not wanting to shame Mary, made up his mind to divorce her quietly. “But as he considered these things, 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”
As just as Joseph may have been, he was still a human. What would you do if you found that your fiancé is pregnant, and you’ve been honoring the Lord and each other with your bodies as you prepare for marriage? He wanted to save Mary as much shame as he could, and so he wanted to proceed subtly. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, assuring him that it was okay to take Mary as his wife. The child conceived in her is not of man, but of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the child was a son, and His name is to be called Jesus. St. Peter speaks of this child before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Never in history has there been a more important name, a more important child. This child is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His name is Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” St. Matthew cuts right to the point of it all. This child, conceived by the Holy Spirit and soon to be born of the Virgin Mary, is what has been so long prophesied. This is a clear instance of the Scripture interpreting Scripture, showing that the text from Isaiah 7 is a reference to Jesus. Back then Ahaz was king of Judah. God assured him that though enemies were preparing to wage war against Jerusalem, he need not fear, for God is with them. As proof His promise, He told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he refused. Therefore, the Lord Himself gave a sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. This son shall be called Immanuel, God with us.
The prophecy has now reached its fulfilment. The child, the savior long hoped for, is now come. But He didn’t come just to be here, but to be with us. This child born of the Virgin Mary is all the power of God to save. He is born fully God and fully man, perfect in every way, so that He can save His people from their sins.
We mentioned Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus just a moment ago. It contains 42 generations, and every single generation, marred by the guilt of sin. Beginning with Abraham, who in various times doubted God’s Word and was yet declared righteous by faith, each succeeding generation was filled with the likeness of sinful man. King David was an adulterer, as well was King Solomon in addition to being an idolater. Each person in the list, a sinner. We are sinners, too.
Sure, we are here this evening, but how often do we find ourselves putting our desires above the needs of others, or pleasing ourselves rather than spending time before the Lord? We are quicker to praise ourselves and those around us than to pray a simple prayer for forgiveness to our Father in heaven. Tonight we gather to celebrate the impending birth of a baby boy, while still, in our country, too many are robbed of birth. These things, and many more, show that we are sinners, living in a sinful world wracked with the guilt of perpetual iniquity.
But, dear friends in Christ Jesus, this is exactly why He was born. He was born to be God with us. He made this possible by His perfect life – His fulfillment of God’s Law at every point, in place of our failures. This He made possible by His brutal suffering – taking what we deserve. This He made possible by His death on the cross – the eternal payment and atonement for our sins. By His death, He has removed the guilt of our trespasses. He won for us the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness He freely and continually gives to us through His Word, in Holy Absolution, in the gift of Baptism, in His body and blood given to us from this altar. Scripture says that Jesus came to save sinners. This He does and He is true to His promise to never leave or forsake you.
As you depart this evening to be with your families, and as you celebrate tomorrow, you may know that in Christ, sins are forgiven. He is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, yet born of Mary. He was born to be God with us, your Immanuel. His name is Jesus, because, by His death, He saved us from our sins. Amen.