Jesus is God with Us!

Dec 24, 2023

Sermon 12-24-23, 7 p.m.
Christmas Eve
Text: Matthew 1:18-21
Pastor JeanM. Hansen
Jesus is God with Us!
     I’m sure I wasn’t the only child who thought that the head angel, the one leading the angelic choir the night Jesus was born, was named Harold. It’s similar to those who thought God’s name was Howard. If you haven’t caught on, just think of the hymn we sang at the beginning of the service, “Hark the Herald - which sounds like Harold - Angels Sing,” and the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed (Howard?) be thy name. These misunderstandings are easy to understand!
     You know, we sing the wonderful Christmas hymns, but do we notice the lyrics? For example, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail, incarnate deity! Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Excuse me? It’s very poetic, but not completely accessible. What we mean when we sing those words is that in Jesus, God became human and lived among humans. Or, as one pastor put it, “the intelligent designer of the universe invaded our world in the form of a tiny baby boy.” He is, as the reading from Matthew announces, Emmanuel, God with us.
     This morning we focused on Mary and the shepherds. Tonight, let’s consider Joseph and the message of the angels. We do not pay a lot of attention to Joseph, but we should. Afterall, who was one of the first people to see the “Word made flesh” – perhaps the first if he was the only one in the stable helping Mary give birth. Perhaps that’s more “earthy” than we really want to consider, and yet, it points out the privileged role that Joseph was given.
     As was noted this morning, Mary and Jospeh were betrothed, which was a legally binding contract, but the final step of marriage when the groom took the bride to his home had not yet occurred. We are not given any details concerning how he learned that Mary was pregnant, just that it is not good news because he knows that he is not the child’s father. This is, Joseph believes, a case of adultery and both the law and the culture of that day said that Joseph had no alternative but to divorce Mary. He is, after all, a righteous man, which is also why he wanted to do so quietly and not submit her to public ridicule.
     So…that settled it…what Joseph had decided was what was expected, although kinder than what was often the case. (Remember, she could have been subject to death by stoning.) But, then, an angelic messenger came to Joseph in a dream. As one commentator noted, “He (Joseph) violated convention and remained faithful to Mary because God, as God often does, intervened in an unexpected way. God sent an angel to appear to Joseph in a dream. The angel basically said, “I know this is not what you expected, Joseph, but it is going to be OK. God is about to do something wonderful, despite the fact that according to Jewish custom and law you are in a rather socially unacceptable situation.” (1)
     It turned out Jospeh had a role to play alongside Mary. In fact, his participation was vital for Mary and for the baby. He chose to believe the angel’s message, resulting in Mary and Jesus being protected and provided for. Also, it was through the family lineage of Joseph that Jesus was connected to the line of King David, from which the Messiah was expected to come.
     Joseph and Mary are models of faithfulness because they accepted the way God was leading them, which was not the way they expected to go, nor how they had been taught to respond. That dream transformed Joseph; it changed his mind and his heart. His thinking expanded to accept something radically different from anything he and known or believed previously.
     Do you realize that Joseph had to be willing to sacrifice some of his pride regarding how others would perceive him if he stuck with Mary? In other words, he had to de-center himself and welcome this pre-named baby, Jesus, which means, “God saves.” And the way that saving occurs is because this infant is Emmanuel, “God with us.”
     It was because of “God with us” that the angel choir – those herald angels – showed up the night of his birth, proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
     That scene is repeated all over the world on this night as the Christian faithful join the angels in proclaiming, “Glory to the newborn king!” But, do we realize that we too are invited to de-center from our own lives? Can we place this baby in a manger at the core of our own being, grateful that he defeated the power of sin and death through his own death and resurrection, and continues to be with us?
     Jesus is God with us, in times of joy and sorrow, confusion and clarity, peace and pain, challenge and happiness. The one who, in the beginning, was God … was with God…creating all that exists is with us now, re-creating our lives.
    Mary and Joseph did not know where God was taking them; all they knew was that something wonderful had been promised. May we, like Mary, like Joseph, be willing to welcome Jesus. For some of us this may require expanding our thinking and opening our hearts to accept something radically different from anything we have known or believed, but has the power to transform us and the world. It is this … Jesus is God with us! AMEN
  1. Feasting on the Word, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 94