“God with Us, God’s Peace”
Matthew 1:18-25 (1:23) – December 18, 2022
Where does your name come from? What do our first names mean? Do you know? Are you named after someone beloved or meaningful in our families? Many parents choose their children’s names carefully, and sometimes name them after someone beloved or meaningful to them or their family. Several of my older brothers and sisters have names like that. I suspect some relatives of yours do, too.
The name Jesus had a special meaning. But before we get to that, let’s talk about this reading from the Gospel of Matthew. This is not the typical reading associated with Christmas! This is not the reading with Mary or the Magnificat, or with the angels, the shepherds, the star shining in the east, and shepherds rushing to find the Baby in Bethlehem. That is the reading from Luke chapter 2. Instead, we have today’s reading from Matthew chapter 1. This is the Nativity from Joseph’s point of view.
We can’t know much about Joseph and Mary’s marriage preparations, other than some generalities that we understand from cultural and historical studies of their area and the society of the time. But, I have some experience with people. I have learned how many people behave, frequently, on different occasions. I can tell you right now that from my observations, people have not changed much over the centuries.
Matthew tells us that Joseph observes the Law of God. That is huge! Can you say that about yourself? Can I? Are we faithful to God’s laws? Since Matthew is a faithful Jew, this law-keeping is obviously very important to him. The very next thing we hear is that Mary is pregnant, and not by Joseph! What does that mean to Joseph, who is so faithful to the Law of Moses? Matthew does let his readers know that Joseph wants to dissolve the betrothal quietly.
How often, even today, do we make plans? Trying to fix, manage and control people, places and things? Doing our best to make sure all our ducks are in a row, making sure that everything is just right, trying to orchestrate everything, so that nothing is left to chance?
We can see that Joseph made plans, too! Yes, he cared enough for Mary – pregnant as she was – that he planned to divorce her, to break the betrothal quietly. He wanted to organize what he could of his life, while still being considerate of her. But, what happened next?
Let’s take a closer look at Matthew’s words: “But after Joseph had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Sure, Joseph had lots of fear and anxiety, because of the unknown and unexpected. Because of a situation he did not plan for. The angel came to him with words of comfort and hope. Can you imagine how heartwarming this must have been for Joseph, hearing these words from an angel sent from God? Can you imagine how earthshaking it would be for an angel, a messenger sent from God, delivering words of comfort and hope to us?
We do not know much about Joseph at all, from the biblical record. He does not get very much attention, compared to Mary. But, this appearance of the angel of the Lord is certainly dynamic! In case Joseph had second thoughts about where the baby came from, the angel’s words gave Joseph no doubt: “what is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit.”
Joseph and Mary were even told what the child’s name would be! As I said a few minutes ago, names can be meaningful. In this case, Jesus’ name means something very important. Let us hear what the angel said: “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves,” revealing the birth of the Savior of the world. This statement is an angelic birth announcement of an historic nature, indeed! But, this is not all. Matthew goes on to give the words of the prophet Isaiah: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
My favorite bible commentator Carolyn Brown states, “The name Joseph and Mary are to give this child is Immanuel, “God with us.” When we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. Jesus once said, “If you have seen me, you have seen God. What I say is what God says. What I do is what God does.”  In Isaiah the name Immanuel is defined and connected to God’s promise to be with us, even right by our sides. In the gospel Joseph is instructed to name the baby both Jesus and Immanuel. God-with-us.
A preview of what is to come at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is also a reminder to all of us. “The last sentence in Matthew 28 and Jesus’ last words: “remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” “I will be with you” is God’s promise to us always. It was God’s promise for hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God’s promise was God-with-us when Jesus was alive, and is God’s promise to us forever. 
What better source for a name than a God-given name? How amazing is the prophecy from Isaiah that lets us know God will always be right by our sides!
Unexpected situations may come up, but they are not unexpected to God. Human plans may fail, but God never fails. Through it all, God is faithful in all God does, and we can count on the Lord one hundred percent. Immanuel – God with us!