Matthew 1.18-25: Jesus Emmanuel

Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew tells us the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective
(Luke tells us the story from Mary’s perspective)

It must have been difficult for Joseph.
He was engaged to Mary. It was probably an arranged marriage. But they weren’t yet married and they were not yet living together.
And then Mary tells him that she is pregnant. She may have told him about the message of the angel – but he probably had been unable to listen to her. He will have felt angry, let down and humiliated. Particularly in that culture.
There was no way the wedding could go ahead, but – and we are told that he is a righteous man - rather than publicly shame her and expose her to disgrace, he determines to leave her quietly, maybe go off somewhere himself.

And then the angel comes to him and tells him not to leave Mary, that she has conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and tells him two things about this child

1. He tells Joseph to call the baby Jesus.

Jesus was a then-modern day version of Joshua. His name means ‘God saves’. And there would have been a lot of little Jesus-es running around at the time. It seems to have been a popular name.
Maybe parents were praying that God would save them – from the hardship of life, from oppression and sickness.

People would have read the Old Testament and known that God had promised that one day he would send his ruler, his Messiah into the world. And the Messiah, who would be a descendant of the great King David, would establish the Kingdom of God. He would bring in God’s rule of right-ness and justice, of peace, security and abundance. It would be a place where people were free – free to worship God, and where there would be no more sickness, suffering, pain or death.
Or maybe parents called their children ‘Jesus’ because they were praying that God would use their child to save and rescue his people.

But the angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus, because ‘he will save his people from their sins’.

We think we need to be saved from poverty, sickness, ignorance, oppressors – but God looks at us and sees that our greatest need is to be saved from sin: from the consequences of sin and from the power of sin.

We think of sins as ‘naughty things’ that we do.
Joke about the sinometer and the extractor fan.
But sin is not a joke. There are the lies, the deceit, stealing, hatred, jealousy – to name just a few – that separate people, that destroy trust and make it so much harder to love

And sin is more than just the things that we do that destroy other people and ourselves. Sin is also about the good things that we fail to do.
James writes, ‘Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin’. (James 4.17)

You might think that the way to get rid of sin is simply to live a better life, to try harder.  
But it is more complicated than that – and sin is rooted much deeper.

Sin is the seed of that rebellion against God which goes back to ancient days.

Sin is when we turn our back on God
Sin is the perversion of our desires into what the desert father and mothers called the passions. It is when we take those good desires: the desire for glory, fulfilment, beauty, intimacy, security, peace, happiness, life – even the desire to become like God – and we try to satisfy those desires in our way and not his way. We pursue fame, wealth, glamour and power. And of course they give us a bit of a buzz. But they are temporary. They bring their own grief. They fade away. They can’t do anything for us on the day of our death
And we will never find final satisfaction for our deepest desires in the things of this world.
Sin is idolatry, when I put something or someone in the place of God that is not God   
Sin is when the I is in the centre: when I remove God from the throne and put myself on the throne of my life

Jesus came to save us from our sin.

He came to save us from the consequences of our sin
Our sin separates us from God.

It blinds us to God.
That is why we cannot see God clearly.
Isaiah says, ‘Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear’ (Isaiah 59:2)
We are like the disciples at the transfiguration. I love the icon of the transfiguration. Jesus is shown in his glory and Peter, James and John are fast asleep or can’t look.
Sin has made us sleepy.
Sin has made us used to the night, and we can’t cope with glare of the day.

And the ultimate consequence of sin is death.
That is obvious. If you cut yourself off from the source of life then you will wither away: you will be like the person sitting on a branch and sawing away, only to realise too late that they are cutting off their own branch.
And death is both the consequence of our sin and also the expression of the anger, the wrath of God, against sin.

Jesus came to save us from the consequences of sin, from the condemnation of sin. 33 years later, long after Joseph had died, he died for us on the cross. He paid the price and died the death that we deserved. And because of his death the barrier between God and human beings has been broken down. There is – for all who receive Jesus - forgiveness and acceptance and welcome.  

But Jesus also came to save us from the power of sin
Sin has a grip on us. We try to live better lives, but we are unable to do so.
Paul writes, ‘The good I want to do, I am not able to do it’.
The story is told about the monk who had a problem with his temper...

But Jesus was born to set us free from the power, the grip of sin.
I’m not saying that this side of heaven we can be perfect. But I am saying that we can begin to change.

Because of Jesus we can receive the Holy Spirit – and the Holy Spirit will come and live in us and help us to see God.
He will reassure us of the love of God for us, but he will also show us our sin. That is why people who have become Christians, and who are the Christian journey, will often say ‘I don’t think I am becoming more loving. In fact I think I’m getting worse, not better’. It is not true – it is not often true(!) – rather it means that they are seeing themselves in a new way.
And the Holy Spirit, we are told, helps us in our weakness. He helps us call out to Jesus, and he gives us a way out when we are tempted.
And the Holy Spirit reminds us of the Word and promises of God

So the angel tells Joseph that this baby will save his people from their sin. He will change our hearts. He will remove our hearts of stone and give us living hearts.

2. We are told that he tells Joseph that this baby will be Emmanuel, God with us

In the Old Testament God made a promise to the descendants of Abraham. He told them that he would be their God and they would be his people. And he said that he would be with them
When they fled from Egypt, he was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night
When they were in the wilderness, travelling from Egypt to the Promised land, he was with them in the tabernacle, a tent temple. Moses went in to meet with God, and he spoke with him face to face.
When the people reached the promised land, God was with them. He told them to build a temple where his name and his presence would dwell. When people were in need they could turn to his temple and pray, and he would hear and answer.

But now, God says, he is doing a new thing.
That is why it is important that it is a virgin who conceives.
Yes, the Isaiah passage speaks of a ‘young girl’, but in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that is translated as ‘parthenos’, virgin. And Matthew makes it clear that this is how we are to understand Isaiah 7.
This is God doing a new thing. It is a new creation. It is humanity mark 2. Jesus is conceived of the Holy Spirit and he grows in the womb of Mary. I think it was Augustine who said that the womb of Mary was the bridal chamber where God and human beings meet.  

So, God becomes a human being, one of us. He really is with us. He is born in a stable and he dies on a cross. He lives our life, and he dies our death.

J John, an evangelist in the UK, tells a story that I love repeating. He was taking an assembly at a school with older teenagers. It hadn’t started well. The headteacher had marched him into the assembly, where all the guys and gals were waiting, and had yelled at them and said, ‘Listen now, because this man is going to tell you about God!’
So J John spoke and then – I once did this and it was a disaster – asked for questions. And one cool guy standing at the back raised his hand. He was looking very pleased with himself. He said, ‘I’ve got a question. Have you ever seen God?’
And the guys and galls around him, nodded and thought, ‘Yes, He’s got the preacher, because of course the preacher hasn’t seen God’.
And J John said. ‘No. I haven’t seen God. But have you ever seen Queen Victoria’. ‘No’, said the guy slightly puzzled.
‘If you had lived 100 years ago, you could have seen Queen Victoria. And if I had lived 2000 years ago, I could have seen God – because everything that Jesus was saying, thinking, doing and being on earth was what God was saying, thinking, doing or being in heaven. He was God with us.’

And we believe that by his Holy Spirit, Jesus is still Emmanuel, God with us.
Matthew’s gospel begins with Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’. It ends with Jesus telling his followers, ‘Listen, I am with you always, to the very end of time itself’.
He is here among us. He is here when his word is read. He is here as we gather together to receive the bread and wine. He is in us by his Holy Spirit.

I’m pleased we have this reading today, because often I neglect Joseph.
But he was given an astonishing role.

Joseph was called by the angel to name Jesus. He was called to become the human father of Jesus. And he was called to know Jesus in a way that no other human can ever really know Jesus. He was called to know Jesus as God knows Jesus, to know Jesus as his son.

Joseph said yes to that calling, he said yes to the child who would save him from his sins and who would be his Emmanuel.

And I pray that we may have the courage to listen to God and to say yes to this Jesus: and to come to the one who can save us from the condemnation, separation and power of sin, and to the one who is God with us.

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