God with Us, God’s Peace

“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.” [1]  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. [2]

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!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-fourth-sunday-of-advent-december.html

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God with Us!

“God with Us!”

Matt 1-23 Emmanuel Greek

Matt 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-38 – December 8, 2019

Have you ever had something unexpected happen? I mean, something huge. Something you never would have expected in a hundred years. Maybe, even a thousand. I know that, with statistics, we can figure out just what are the chances of having something happen. Like, a car accident, or a fall at home, or catching a rare disease. We can even figure out the statistical chances for getting hit by lightning—and a few people have even been hit by lightning twice, and lived to tell about it.

But—what about being visited by an angel? At night, when you are sleeping? Picture this—our Scripture reading from Matthew 1 tells us about Joseph receiving a visit from an angel of the Lord. Statistically, that angel probably would not even factor, because angels are not material, they are not able to be quantified by any earthly scale or system.

Regardless of whatever statistical system is used, I doubt very much whether Joseph would have been considered “the one most likely to see an angel.” And, especially when we consider what the angel had to say to him.

I wanted to focus on the sleeping part. The angel came to Joseph while he was asleep. That reminds me of someone creeping up on Joseph, trying to surprise him. Perhaps, even trying to scare him. I do not think the angel meant that at all, but the first words out of the angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!”

We are considering light and dark this Advent season. Last week, we thought about different aspects about darkness that are warm, friendly, even inviting. We thought about nocturnal animals, gestating animals, and growing seeds underground. All in the warm, nurturing, friendly darkness. These examples give us a whole different view of darkness as opposed to light.

This week, we look at the angel of the Lord coming to Joseph in a dream. But, before we even start with the angel, what was the background to this Scripture reading?

We know Joseph and Mary are engaged—or, pledged to be married. I suspect that it was more than just an engagement thought up by the two young people themselves, with no one else involved. No, at that time, in that part of the world, a marriage was much more. A marriage was an alliance between two families, a merger, a joining of one extended family with another.

When two people got married, it was a long, drawn-out affair. First, both families needed to talk and negotiate. Most times, money or other kinds of valuables changed hands—some kind of dowry or bride price. The man and woman were seen to be engaged, promised to each other. But the actual, official marriage ceremony had not taken place yet. From what I see in the Scripture passage today, this is the point we are at. This is what is going on. Joseph’s family and Mary’s family have arranged the marriage; Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married.

This is where the story starts getting sad, or weird, or surprising—maybe all three. Mary tells Joseph privately, confidentially, that she is pregnant. And, this pregnancy is special. Super extra special! Mary told Joseph that God was the father of her baby.

Now, what did she say? Wait just a minute. What did Mary say? Joseph could not believe this tall tale Mary tried to tell him. And, this certainly seemed to be a whopper, in Joseph’s eyes.

What do you and I do when we have something happen that is statistically unlikely? Even, impossible? What would you or I do if we had someone tell us that they had heard from an angel, and they were pregnant. And, all this had to be kept confidential?

I suspect Joseph had really unsettled sleep for the next few nights. (Wouldn’t you?)

The Gospel reading tells us “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Seriously, if Mary were tried under the law of Moses, and found pregnant before she went through with the marriage ceremony with Joseph, she could be stoned for adultery. Serious, indeed.

This Scripture reading focuses on light and darkness, too. Sailors and other travelers used the light of stars at night to find their way. The stars, of course, were made of light, but the night—the darkness—enabled the sailors to see stars clearly enough to navigate their path. Light and dark worked together to illuminate the way.

It was during one of these nights of agitation and discomfort that the angel of the Lord came to him. In both Joseph’s and Mary’s cases, darkness plays a significant role. Night tells our bodies it’s time to sleep, and sometimes, we can even have dreams. Light and dark can work together in surprising ways.

Do you remember how I started this sermon, and talked about figuring out the statistical chances for getting hit by lightning—and a few people have even been hit by lightning twice, and lived to tell about it? What are the statistical chances of two engaged people each getting visited by an angel?   

I want to remind us all about the words of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

Mary and Joseph, both received word from the angel of the Lord, both at home, and both were scared out of their wits. In both angelic visits, the angels say not to be afraid.  We begin with two people who both did not understand—both were in darkness, except the angel brought light and understanding to both people.

The angelic message offers peace, even as Mary and Joseph face an unexpected future. Like the night sky for ancient sailors, these holy visits to Mary and Joseph point the way when they don’t know what to do. And we know, of course, their message is very good news.

What about us, then, today? Would we receive this same news in the same way?

Each one of us is encouraged to ponder our selves, our lives. Let me suggest that in this pondering, we have the opportunity to offer our thoughts, feelings and emotions to God. Each of us can think of times of regret and sorrow, the deep feelings, the difficult memories. And, what about those times of anxiety and deep sadness? Of desperate loneliness and fear.

Like Mary, like Joseph, each of us today has the ability to ask God to take away the distress and anxiety from us. Just like in Mary’s situation, where she accepted the angel’s news with joy. Just like Joseph, who was persuaded to continue with the engagement by the words of the angel. The angels spread light and life wherever they went.

The angels delivered important messages to Mary and Joseph. Another word for angel is “messenger,” and we can all be messengers of hope, light and life. How can you or your family deliver a message of good news today? Take a moment to think of someone who could use a message of love and hope. Then write a note, send a photo by Facebook or Instagram, draw a picture, or send a text to that person or family.

God willing, we can all be messengers of God’s light, life and hope to others.

Alleluia, amen.

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from Week 2 of this devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!