18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 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.
20 But after he 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. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 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”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)
Joseph must have felt like God was against him. Have you ever put yourself in Joseph’s sandals? He had been getting excited for his wedding. Many of us know the excitement that goes into a wedding. Joseph was pledged to be married to a humble believer in God—Mary. And following God’s plan for sex and marriage actually added excitement for their wedding day. Joseph didn’t sleep with his fiancée. How could he? They refused to move in together. They waited and trusted in God and his plan over their own desires. Life was good. They couldn’t wait to be married!
But then came the shock. “Before they came together, she was found to be pregnant.” Doesn’t your heart go out to Joseph? Too many of you know how he must have felt. Crushed. Broken. I wonder who finally broke the news to Joseph. “Joseph, I hate to tell you, but you need to know. Mary’s pregnant.” I bet Joseph refused to believe it. “No way! Not Mary. She’d never do that. That can’t be true!” But it was. Joseph was crushed. “How could she do this to me?” Talking with Mary only made it worse. Because do you know what her excuse was? “It was God.” How foolish did she think Joseph was? You talk about crazy excuses! All that excitement… crushed.
For us it’s exciting to think about Jesus’ birth. Not for Joseph. He agonized over how to break up with the love of his life. Adultery in the Bible was to be punished by stoning to death. God takes sexual sins very seriously. But Joseph couldn’t bring himself to get revenge. He didn’t want to drag Mary through the mud. He loved her too much for that. So with a broken heart, he made plans to call it all off. “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 divorceher quietly.” He didn’t know how he’d start over. He didn’t know how he’d go on. Joseph must have felt like God was against him.
I bet he cried himself to sleep that night. Tomorrow was the day to say good-bye. But God had other plans. Suddenly, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” Had God forgotten about Joseph? No way! The angel 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.” It was true! The unbelievable excuse that Mary had given—“it was God!”—was true. Her baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary hadn’t sinned. She hadn’t been unfaithful. God wasn’t against Joseph. God was actually coming into our world, and Joseph was going to hold God in his own arms.
Take another minute to think that through. God was inside Mary’s womb. I can understand those words, but there’s a mystery there that goes way beyond me. The whole universe can’t contain God, yet he fit inside Mary’s womb. Can you explain that? God carries the whole world in his hands, and yet he was carried inside a woman. That’s a mystery, isn’t it? There are so many things about a normal pregnancy that we can’t explain, let alone the miracle of Jesus’ birth. But here’s what’s not a mystery: Why Jesus was coming. The angel tells us. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
I hope that name brings you joy every time you hear it: Jesus. For us, Jesus is a special name. Most people don’t name their kids “Jesus.” But Jesus was a common name in Jesus’ day. There were a lot of Jesuses around. There are four other people named “Jesus” in the Bible. Jesus is the Greek way to say the Hebrew name “Joshua.” Someone with too much time researched and found that the name “Joshua” or “Jesus” was the 6th most common boys name at the time of Jesus. But Joseph didn’t use the name “Jesus” because it was popular. God chose it, because Jesus means “The Lord saves.” “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Every time you hear the name “Jesus,” remember “the Lord saves.”
That implies something: You and I need a Savior from our sins. Are you willing to admit that? Joseph seemed to get it. He didn’t say to the angel, “What sins?” or “Save whom?” He knew. “Save me!” Later in this gospel of Mathew, Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). When do you go to the doctor? When you’re sick! When you’re healthy, you don’t think about doctors at all. But when you’re sick, doctors are sure nice to have. If you think you’re pretty good, you won’t think about Jesus at all. But if you see your sins, it sure is wonderful to have a Savior.
I shared this story with one of our elderly members this past week. I read right up to the line, “He will save his people from their sins.” Before I could continue, the man said, “That is so good. A Savior! I have a Savior. That is so good!” I said, “Yeah, I need a Savior too.” And he looked at me and said, “You don’t understand. You’re less than half as old as I am. (He said he was 201!) I really need a Savior. This is such good news. I have a Savior!” That man may not leave his nursing home for Christmas, but that’s okay. He has everything he needs in Jesus—his Savior!
If you miss that Jesus came to save his people from their sins, you miss the heart of Christmas. “Joy to the world,” we’re going to sing. Except you look around and say, “What joy? In this world? I don’t see it!” We’ll sing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” “Huh? What planet are you on? Calm? Holy? Where?” Only in Jesus. Joy in Jesus our Savior. Peace in Jesus our Savior. That’s the heart of Christmas: Jesus came to save his people from their sins.
Can you imagine Joseph’s surprise? From tears to joy. From feeling like God was against him to hearing that God was actually coming for him. What a surprise! Actually, not… This is exactly what God had always said would happen. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” God was just keeping his promise, like he always does! 700 years earlier, God had told the prophet Isaiah to write that a virgin would give birth to a son, and people would call him Immanuel. The name “Immanuel” means “God with us.”
That’s an incredible name, because all of human history is the story of why God should not be with us. It started with Adam and Eve. God gave them a perfect world with just one command—don’t eat from that one tree. They broke it. Years later, God started over with Noah. After the flood, God told Noah and his family to spread out and fill up the earth. Instead, they stayed in one spot and made the Tower of Babel to show how great they were. God chose the Israelites to be his special people and rescued them from slavery in Egypt, but within weeks they build a golden calf and worshipped it as their God. All of history screams out at God: “Don’t have anything to do with these people. They don’t deserve you. They are nothing like you. Look at all the rotten things they have done. People are so sinful. God, you should not be with them!”
That’s what the devil screams in our ears. Maybe it’s more like a quite whisper. “God shouldn’t want anything to do with you. Why would he? Remember your adultery? Think of your greed. Look at your sin. Don’t think for a minute that God should love you. You don’t deserve it. You are nothing like God. Look at all the rotten things you have done. You are so sinful. God should not be with you.” Hear that voice? You know what? The devil is actually right for a change. I don’t deserve God’s love. God should stay as far away from me as he can possibly get.
But then the angel reminds us what the Savior of the world was going to be called. Another name. An old name. “They will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).” As our sins piled up, God didn’t stay away. He came even closer. In fact, he became one of us. “Immanuel—God with us.” When you feel like you deserve to be abandoned or forsaken or alone, God does the opposite. He comes. I’ve seen a phrase around a lot this month: “Christmas isn’t about the presents. It’s about God’s presence with us.” That’s Jesus’ name. “Immanuel—God with us!” Joseph can attest that the child wasn’t his. He’s God with us come to save us from our sins.
As I was studying Jesus’ name, I came across something I’d never heard before. I said there are four other people named Jesus in the Bible. One of those is surprising. There are some copies of the Bible—of this book of Matthew—that say that Jesus was also the first name of Barabbas. Remember who Barabbas was? The murderer on death row at the time of Jesus’ death. Pontius Pilate asked the people who should be released. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ. I’m not sure if Jesus was really Barabbas’ first name, but what Jesus did for him is absolutely true. That man deserved death and damnation, but Jesus stepped into his place and died for his sins and let him go free. Jesus the Savior died so that the murderer could go free. “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” That’s Jesus. The Savior. God with us.
Could God have picked better names for his Son? Of course not! When Joseph felt abandoned, God was actually at work doing the greatest thing in his life. When Joseph felt alone, God was coming closer than he ever had before. When Joseph felt his life was out of control, God was putting his perfect plan into action. When Joseph felt like sin was wrecking his life, his Savior was coming to save his people from their sins. So “when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” How much joy Joseph must have had to take Mary’s Son—God’s Son—and give him his name: Jesus. Savior. God with us.
As you celebrate Christmas this year, I know it might seem like God is against you. He’s not. God is with us. I know you might feel unforgivable. You’re not. Jesus came to save his people—you and me—from our sins. A friend reminded me this past week that even if nobody comes to our church services, even if there are no gifts under the tree, even if no family makes it home, even if the most important family member is no longer here, Jesus was born for you and for me. You have a Savior. Immanuel. God with us to save us from our sins. O come, O come Immanuel.