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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon # 1192

December 7, 2014                                                                                          Matthew 1:18-25

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

“Immanuel – God With Us”

 

            I had the opportunity yesterday to give a brief message for the Bailey-Kirk memorial service.  They invite families and friends to come for worship and to support them this first holiday season in their loss of a friend or family member.  It reminds us that Christmas can be a tough time for some people.  One of the most difficult aspects of the holiday season is missing those whom we have loved and particularly in the times when family and friends celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is most poignant the first Christmas and sharing in the joy of Christmas is somewhat diminished. 

Christmas can bring sadness and depression to many people.  It may be the loss of a loved one or some other reason like economic stress or family tensions or any number of problems.  Now, I’m not trying to put a downer on Advent or Christmas time, but it is important that we remember those who do have difficulty during this time of year.  But, we also remember that there is hope.  There is joy, even for those who struggle.  There is the promise of peace precisely because of the gift given in the birth of Jesus Christ.  I want to share with you Matthew’s gospel message of Christmas.  It is a short reading.  Matthew does not spend much time on Jesus’ birth, but what he gives is a powerful message of hope and confidence in the presence of God, the God who is with us. 

 

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  (Prayer for illumination)

 

One of the comforting aspects of this story is the narrative of life and the promises that accompany that narrative.  When we reflect on the story we can note five points to lift our hearts.  I am not going to spend a great deal of time with these five points, but I do want to spend more time at the end of this message with one in particular. 

 

1.No fear – Joseph dreamed a dream.  The word of comfort is this: “do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”  Do not fear.  It is a common command when angels appear.  Fear not.  It is so often easier said than done.  But we need not fear because of what follows.  Whatever may bring fear to us can be conquered in the good news of the gospel that strengthens our faith.  The reasons why fear is vanquished follows…

 

2.The Holy Spirit – Mary is with child because of the Holy Spirit.  God is at work in Mary and now in Joseph’s life to assure him that it is safe to take Mary as his wife.  It would have been a major controversy with Mary pregnant before they were married.  But the angel assures Joseph that this is the work of God.  We also have the promise of the Holy Spirit as the Father sends us the Spirit in Jesus’ name.

 

3.Jesus – The great promise is the birth of a savior.  Jesus, the name in Hebrew is Joshua, and it means he saves.  So the angel tells Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins.” 

 

4.Immanuel – A second name is given to Jesus, which means, “God with us”.  This is the reason we can conquer fear, and trust in the Spirit, and follow Jesus, because God has promised to be with us through all things.  Not only has God saved us in Jesus, but he promises his presence as well.  I will share a little bit more on this name in a few moments.

 

5.Obedience – Joseph gives us a final lesson in that when he woke from sleep, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”  Joseph teaches us to offer a delightful submission to the will of God.  With all that God has done for us through the Christmas story, our response is to follow Jesus and all that he has commanded. 

 

 

The Christmas story reveals God with us, the Holy Spirit at work in us, Jesus who has saved us.  Because God is with us we need not fear anything in this life.  We are free to be obedient to God and seek to live his way.  In that obedience, God will comfort and lead and be present in our times of need. 

 

I’d like to share a little more about one point, that is, the name Immanuel, “God with us”.   Let’s think for a moment about how God is with us. 

 

 

God is with us through…

  • The Holy Spirit – Jesus, just before his suffering and death, was comforting his disciples when he gave them the promise of the Spirit.  “ But the Comforter, which is the Holy [Spirit], whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26 KJV).  The Father has sent us the Holy Spirit. 

When we think about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christmas story, there are also considerations for how the Spirit is present in other places in the Bible.  James Boyce describes Matthew 1 as disguising a “genesis” or a creation.  What we find in Jesus is the ongoing story of creation.  In the beginning the Spirit moved over the waters and God spoke all things into existence.  Now God’s promise is renewed in Jesus, not that Jesus is being created, but the human baby is conceived by the Holy Spirit, and thus, God is sustaining the creative work he began in Genesis 1.  Listen to what James Boyce writes:

 

“Robert Smith sums up this story well in his Augsburg Commentary (p. 36). This Jesus is ‘pure gift, holy surprise, a fresh act of God, a new genesis, a new creation.’ And all it comes about ‘from the Holy Spirit.’ We live with the awareness that God's power is among us and ready to lead us in ways that we can only imagine.”[1]

 

            God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  He is with us through this holy story of birth and newness bringing into our world the One who is Immanuel, God with us. 

 

God is with us through…

  • The Word of God – We read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The Word became flesh and dwells with us today by the Spirit.  God’s words also give us hope and life.  Psalm 119:50 says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”  Just as someone can be “with us” through words, even more is God with us through his living word.  It is kind of sad that we live in such a technological time when words are texted, emailed, or facebooked.  I have letters, actual hand written letters, that convey the words of family and friends unlike technology.  There is something more personal in that.  The greatest love letter to us is God’s word.  In that word we see God revealed and in that word we receive the message of peace and comfort and joy. 

 

Matthew is the one gospel writer who spends a great deal of time showing how the prophetic word is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  In the Christmas story he uses the word from Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”   In the promises of God, that is, in the word of God, Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets.  Let me quote Boyce once more, “That promise begins this story and stands again at its conclusion, ‘Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’  Jesus is for Matthew the fulfillment of all of God's promises. And God's promises frame this story just as they frame each day of our lives.”[2] 

God is with us in his word because God frames our days in this word.  He reveals himself to us each and every day through a word of life.

 

 

God is with us through…

  • Our obediencePsalm 16:7-8 “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”  I liken the phrase of keeping the Lord “always before me” as a way of obedience.  God honors such obedience by his presence, “at my right hand” and therefore, we will not be shaken.  We will not fear.  Joseph demonstrates such obedience.

Joseph is a pretty tough character in this Christmas story.  He is said to be just, that is, to be righteous.  He is willing to do the right thing by law and dismiss Mary.  (Boyce) – “[Joseph] is committed and faithful to his religious tradition and ready to act on that commitment. When the call of God comes to him through an angel in a dream…he has already made a definite decision, ‘resolved’ upon a course of action.”  Joseph reminds me a little of Abraham.  Abraham was told to leave his home and go off to a new land.  Abraham did not question, he just up and left!  Joseph gets this command and in the face of what would have been the right thing by the law, to let Mary go, he instead does exactly what the angel of the Lord commands.  Joseph does not question, he does what he is told by God.  He becomes one of the first to respond in obedience to the gospel message of salvation in Jesus.  

 

Obedience, doing what God says, demonstrates the presence of God with us.  Joseph is a prime example of an obedient servant of God and God does not forsake him. 

 

God is with us, by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, and in our response of obedience.  The word to us this day is that God is with us, to comfort and to bring us peace in this Christmas season.  May God indeed comfort your hearts and give you peace until Christ comes again.  Amen.