Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Advent (December 22, 2019)

MATTHEW 1:18-25


In the name + of Jesus.

     We have all been guilty of romanticizing the Christmas story, almost to the point of making it unrecognizable.  Some of the blame goes to the songs we sing about it.  Silent night?  Says who?  The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes?  Why not?  That's what babies do.  Snow on snow had fallen in the bleak midwinter?  Not likely in Bethlehem.  The ox and lamb kept time, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum?  No.  Just, no.  And what about that evil inn-keeper who refuses to take in a woman in full-blown labor?  Read through the story again: There is no innkeeper.  These ideas have crept into the Christmas narrative over the years from various sources and for various reasons.  Thankfully, they have not destroyed the core of the Christmas message: The Savior has come.  But if we romanticize the story, we lose the significance of how God works.
     The events in Matthew's account occurred in Nazareth and are all quite normal.  Joseph had been betrothed to a young virgin, likely in her late teens.  Eventually, he discovered that Mary was pregnant.  Joseph's reaction was both reasonable and noble.  “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)  Joseph knew that the child Mary was carrying was not his.  Joseph was not a fool that he would concoct some crazy explanation for Mary's pregnancy.  No one today would say, “Yes, that girl is pregnant; but rest assured: God did it.”  And if anyone did say it, he would get laughed at.  So Joseph was going to call the marriage off.  He was not driven by any sense of revenge that would publicly humiliate Mary.  Nevertheless, Joseph was not going to make himself responsible for someone else's adultery.
     The Lord, however, sent word to Joseph to reveal what was really going on.  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.”  (Matthew 1:20-21)  The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  But to recognize him, God has to reveal it.  So God told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.  Your betrothed is still faithful to you.  In fact, she is still virgin pure.  For the child in her is from any man; he is conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He is God the Son, now become a human being.” 
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  If this is just a story about a young couple who has a baby in rough circumstances, we might find it endearing, but not comforting.  The Lord reveals what we need to know: The Savior comes: Recognize him.  He is Immanuel, God with us.  God has become a man and has united himself to mankind!
     Once again, our familiarity to the story causes us to lose our sense of amazement.  To appreciate what it means that God unites himself to mankind, consider this.  Take the most despicable person in town.  You can make him reprehensible however you choose, whatever offenses disgust you most.  Now, imagine saying to that person, “I would like you to come and live with me and my family.”  You'd never do this.  This is the kind of person you tell your kids, “Stay away from that guy.  He's nothing but trouble.”  Now, you and I are sinners.  We have turned our noses up at God's word and turned away from his commands.  When God has told us to love our neighbor, to help the needy, to remain chaste in words and deeds, we may have said, “Oh, yes, that's right.  We should do that,” but then we didn't.  Either our words were lies, or we are incapable of doing the good we are supposed to do.  Either way, we are guilty.  Why would God join himself to rebels?  Rebels deserve death, not reward.  Why wouldn't he reject us and stay far away from us?
     He could have, but he did not.  The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is God with us, Immanuel.  He is the Lord, now made man.  And he comes because he loves us.  He does not want to banish us; he wants to save us.  He wants us to be his dear children.  The angel had told Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  The name Jesus means the Lord who saves.  It is who he is.  It is what he does. 
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is the Lord who saves you.  He comes in a common way so that common people will know he comes for them.  He does not come radiating in glory so that you would flee from his holiness.  He is not born in a palace so that you would think he comes only for the elite or special people.  His birth and life are as common and normal as anyone's because he comes for everyone.
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is the Lord who saves.  He saves you from your sins, from death, and from the devil.  He saves you from your sins by taking them from you.  He accepts the charges of rebellion and suffers the consequences.  He saves you from death by dying under God's curse in your place.  We have also romanticized Jesus' death on the cross.  Rest assured, it was a gory, brutal death—the kind that people hide their faces from.  Jesus looked like some poor man, beaten to a pulp, and caught in unjust circumstances.  But we treasure it because God has revealed what was going on there.  This is the payment for your sins.  This is how much God loves you.  Jesus died and was buried, but he is risen to deliver you from death.  He will raise you up to live in glory forever.  And even though the devil will try to convince you that you are not really saved because you still feel guilty from time to time, rest assured that the devil is a liar.  Jesus is the Lord who saves, and he has saved you completely.
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is the Lord in the flesh.  His birth and life were so common that most did not believe him to be the Lord.  So God reveals to you what is really going on.  Jesus is the Lord who saves us from our sins.  He is Immanuel, God who came to live with us so that, when our time on earth is done, we will go to live with him.  God has revealed this to you so that you will be comforted and confident of your salvation.  This is how God loves the world.  He gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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