Advent 4a

Preached: December 19, 2010

Why Is This Baby Immanuel?
Matthew 1:18-25

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us our Savior is Matthew 1.

The origin of Jesus Christ was like this:

When his mother, Mary, had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child from the Holy Spirit. Since Joseph, her husband, was just and did not want to make a show of her, he decided to divorce her quietly.

When he had thought over 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 Mary home as your wife. For what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. For he's the One who will save his people from their sins. This whole thing has happened to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel,'” which means “God with us.”

After Joseph got up from his sleep, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife home. He did not know her until she gave birth to a son, and he called his name Jesus.

(Matthew 1:18-25)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“What should I do? Mary's been unfaithful to me! Three months ago she went to visit her relatives in Judea, and how she comes back pregnant.”

Sometimes we so sanitize the birth of Jesus, turning it into a child's bedtime story, that we forget the real-life people and their struggle. Even worse -- in fact far, far worse -- we forget the miracle or at least fail to fully appreciate and value just how astounding and earth-shattering the wonder and mystery of that birth is. It's not just another birth. It's not simply that miracle of life. It's not like after a difficult pregnancy or delivery which we call it a miracle because we were so sure the child or mother wouldn't make it. Even the word miracle fails to bring home to us what a great and mighty wonder this birth is. It's so much greater than turning water into wine or healing the sick or walking on the sea or calming a storm or even raising the dead.

Some of our best loved Christmas carols place the miracle right in front of our eyes. But do we contemplate it as we sing the words or hear the melody? “Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Silent Night” 60:1) How can anyone be a virgin mother? That's biologically impossible. Or a holy infant? We're all born sinners. Do you see the wonder? “Veiled in flesh the God head see, Hail th'incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” 61:2). What a commentary on that name Immanuel!

As we place ourselves with Joseph today, let's contemplate the wonder of that name: Immanuel. Why is this Baby Immanuel? May the words of the Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds to taste this mystery and believe all the more that this Baby is our God in the flesh, born of the virgin and that he is our Jesus, come to save. That's why he's Immanuel.

A. Because he's our God in the flesh, born of the virgin

Joseph was betrothed to Mary. That's more than a modern “getting engaged.” They had made legally binding promises to be husband and wife. Sometime after the betrothal the husband would take his wife home. This was often a week-long wedding celebration with family and friends. It was only at this point that sexual relations would begin.

Joseph and Mary were betrothed, but he had not yet taken her home. There was no way she could be pregnant by him. So what was he to do? The betrothal was legally binding; only a divorce could break it. Should he pretend this was no big deal and go ahead with the wedding? No, that wouldn't be right. He could publicly accuse her of adultery. That would vindicate him and give proper grounds for divorce. But how that would destroy her life, condemning her as an adulteress! So Joseph decided to use the lax divorce laws, like our no-fault divorce. Then Mary wouldn't be exposed to greater public shame.

Maybe we wonder why Mary didn't tell him about the angel Gabriel appearing to her, telling her that the power of the Most High would overshadow her and the holy one to be born would be called the Son of God (Luke 2:35). But what would you have thought, if you were Joseph? “It's bad enough, Mary, that you were unfaithful and broke our betrothal. But now to drag in the Lord with this preposterous story to try and cover up your sin, how blasphemous!” So Mary left it in the Lord's hands. And how marvelously he works it out!

As God had planned out from all eternity and revealed through the prophets, the Christ would come into this world in a most astounding and yet lowliest of ways. Like any other child, he was born and in the lowliest of conditions with only an animal's feeding trough for a bed. How lowly for him who is the mighty God, who holds the universe in his hands, through whom all things were created! He did not come in divine glory and heavenly majesty, but as a helpless infant.

Yet how astounding! For he has no biological father. He was conceived without any male contribution. And if you remember the genetics of X and Y chromosomes, there is no way, not even with cloning, for a female to produce a male. All that is in that word virgin, which we so easily pass over without appreciating the astounding miracle worked by the Holy Spirit. But that's what the prophet foretold, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son” (Matthew 1:23 NIV).

But as astounding as the virgin birth is, it's not the greatest miracle or wonder that God worked here. It's only the vehicle God used to work a far, far greater miracle. Yet those who deny the lesser miracle of the virgin birth cannot help but deny the greater one. And what is that great and might wonder surpassing all miracles, this mystery beyond mystery? In a word: Immanuel.

Yes, dear friends, Immanuel. “God with us.” God in the flesh. God incarnate. How can the eternal, almighty, omnipresent God take a full human nature, body and soul, into his person? How can he be both the Son of God and the Son of Man? How can his humanity not be consumed by his divinity? How can his divinity not be debased by his humanity? How can he remain fully divine while also at the same time becoming fully human? How can the Word, who is with God and is God, become flesh? How can he be Immanuel, “God with us,” God in the flesh? What a great and mighty wonder!

Ponder that mystery today as you eat his body and drink his blood in the Lord's Supper. For only Immanuel, God in the flesh, could be with us in such a marvelous way. Ponder that as you kneel at the manger with Mary and listen again to the shepherds tell of the angel's message. This Baby is Christ, the Lord -- yes, the Lord God Almighty. He is Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh, born of the virgin. What a great and mighty wonder!

B. Because he is our Jesus, come to save us

But why? Why did he come as Immanuel? The name Joseph was to give him answers that question.

Joseph was to take Mary home as his wife -- not to cover up an illegitimate birth, but to serve as the earthly guardian, the legal father for the Christ-child. And in this god-given role as the child's legal father, he was to give him the name, Jesus. For that's why he came into this world: to save his people from their sins.

The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “the LORD saves” or “the LORD is salvation.” What a fitting name for our Savior!

And notice how the angel is specific: “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 NIV). Those last little words reveal the lie of those who want to use Jesus for earth-centered peace or political gain. He came to deal with our sin, our separation from God. For you and I were born as rebels; our sinful minds hostile toward God, warring against him. Our sin condemned us to death and damnation -- endless darkness, hell, and torment.

But the God, whom you rebelled against, came to save you. He is Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father from eternity. He is Jesus, the God-man, Immanuel. He is Jesus, your Savior. Yes, dear friend, your Savior. That's why he became fully human, in every way like you and me except without sin. He did so to be your Savior by taking your place under the law as your Substitute, by suffering for your sins instead of you, by dying your death, and then rising from the dead, the first-fruit, the promise that you, who are his people through faith in him -- you will also rise from the dead and live and reign with him eternally. For he is your Jesus, come to save.

Only Immanuel, God with us, could do this work. Only Immanuel can be our Jesus, our Savior. For no mere human, not even a perfect human, could save you and me. That's how lost we were. It's divine work, God's work. Only the Lord God saves. But how could God take our place? How could he suffer and die for our sins, unless he himself also became one of us? So the Son of God came to be with us so closely that he took our human nature into his person. So he is true man and true God, fully human and fully divine, Immanuel. Only the God-man is our Jesus, our Savior.

So this Christmas, dear friends, as the Christmas carols ring out and the name Immanuel sounds out, contemplate that most marvelous of mysteries we celebrate at Christmas. This Baby is our God. He is Immanuel, God with us. For he is our God in the flesh, born of the virgin. He is our Jesus, come to save us. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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