Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Advent 4, Series A
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Sermon: A Christmas Confrontation
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Focus: God took on human flesh in Jesus Christ to save us from our sins.
Function: That, like Joseph, they would move from unbelief to faith in God’s miracle.
Locus: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord…” (SC, 2nd Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. In today’s Gospel lesson, we are confronted by what C.S. Lewis calls “the grand miracle” of the Christian faith: the Incarnation. Put simply, “God became Man.” The Christmas story told in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 is “the central miracle asserted by Christians.” It is the miracle from which all others flow, including the atoning death of Jesus on the cross and the resurrection of the Son of God. Our salvation is meaningless without the incarnation. For if there is no virgin birth, then there is no cross, no resurrection, no second coming—and no hope. Our entire faith hinges on the unborn Son of God growing inside the womb of a pregnant teenager—the Virgin Mary!
This is all a bit too much to take in. Reason and our senses tell us that virgins don’t get pregnant. That’s a scientific “fact”! And most of the time, you would be correct. If your teenage daughter turned up pregnant and tried to convince you she’d never been with a man, you’d either laugh at her or throw her out of the house.
That was Joseph’s thought too. Joseph the carpenter was a righteous man. He loved his little fiancée, Mary. But when she told him she was pregnant, it broke his heart. As far as Joseph was concerned, she’d cheated on him. Whoever heard of a pregnant virgin? Except in Mary’s case, the thing actually happened!
We are not the first to grapple with this strange, new reality. Neither was Joseph. Mary herself asked the angel Gabriel, “How shall this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34, ESV).
To which, the angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37).
Full of faith and overawed by God’s grace, Mary answered in humble submission, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
And so it was. The Holy Spirit, the “Lord and giver of life” (Nicene Creed), spoke life into being by the power of his Holy Word. Mary conceived, and the Word became flesh in Mary’s womb. Or, as Matthew politely puts it, “She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).
Mary’s was no ordinary pregnancy, and Jesus would be no ordinary child. He is the Son of God! But in every way that counts, he is still like us. Jesus has blood and bones and skin. His eyes are a particular color. His voice has a distinct sound. He ate and drank, slept and wept. He has walked in our shoes. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In other words, Jesus has been there; he just hasn’t “done that.” Christ is like us in every respect, except that he never sinned.
And that’s why he’s our Savior. That’s why he was able to do what he came to do: “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus’ name is Yeshua in Aramaic and Joshua in Hebrew. Yet no matter how you say it, his name means the same thing: “the Lord saves.” Jesus saves because Jesus is Lord! “That which is conceived in [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). Jesus is God’s Son! Joseph’s DNA was not part of our Lord’s genetic makeup.
And yet God had a special plan and purpose for Joseph. He is one of the people Jesus came to save (his own stepfather!). And so the Holy Spirit did what the Holy Spirit does best: he brought Joseph from unbelief to faith. He converted him. God sent Word to Joseph by an angel in a dream: “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” (Matt. 1:20-21). And because Joseph was a righteous man, he believed God. And he obeyed God. He married Mary and raised Jesus as his own son, watching over him, protecting him from wicked King Herod, providing for him, and teaching him a trade (carpentry).
We don’t know very much about Joseph after this. As far as I know, not a word of his is recorded in Scripture. And he’s not mentioned much in the Gospels, except for when the boy Jesus stayed behind in the Temple and his parents turned Jerusalem inside-out looking for him. “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Jesus asked.
Which father? What business?
Joseph the carpenter plied his trade in wood and tools. So also Jesus’ vocation involved wood, hammer, nails—and blood. For that is what Joseph enabled Jesus to do: to grow up safely so that he could die on a cross for our sins. That is what Jesus came to do, “to save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), to save Joseph and Mary from their sins, to save you from your sins, to save me from my sins, and to save every single person on this planet from their sins.
In order to save us from our sins, Jesus had to die on a cross and rise again on the third day. In order to die, Jesus had to be born. So the Son of God was born to die. That is why this “grand miracle” of the Incarnation is the central hope of our faith. That is why the Christmas story is so essential. Because if there is no Christmas, then there is no Good Friday or Easter.
Dear friends, do not fear to take Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior. That which is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 1:20). Can you accept this? Will you believe it?
Joseph didn’t believe—at first. But that is the other miracle of Christmas: faith. The same Spirit that granted Mary to conceive is the same Spirit who gives us faith in Christ. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit’” (1 Cor. 12:3). Jesus is Lord! During Advent and Christmas, we remember that our little Lord first came to us in Mary’s womb and the manger of Bethlehem. May the Lord grant you to believe and receive him by faith this Christmas! For Jesus is the greatest gift of all. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.