Matthew 1:18-25 (Advent 4A)
St. John, Galveston 12/18/2022
Rev. Alan Taylor
In Nomine Jesu
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning’s message is based on the Gospel reading from Matthew 1. There’s also reference made to the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 7. As you heard a moment ago, Matthew quotes the Isaiah 7 passage, mainly because it’s integral to his telling of the story of Jesus’ birth. He says, “All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”
Before we get into the “Immanuel prophecy,” it’s important to note that Matthew’s Gospel is unique. First of all, it is the most decidedly Jewish of the four Gospels. In other words, Matthew’s audience, the people he was writing to, were Jewish, not only by birth, but by custom, by religious practice and by devotion. Consequently, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other writer in the New Testament. Not only does he quote the Old Testament often, when he does, he doesn’t elaborate on the quotation. The implication being that his audience would understand the quotation and it’s application in the immediate context.
There is something else unique about Matthew’s Gospel. It has to do with with the way he handles the genealogy of Jesus. Luke, of course, also gives us a genealogy of Jesus. However, while Luke’s genealogy begins with Jesus and ends with Adam, Matthew’s begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus. That may seem like an insignificant difference, but it isn’t. The point being, if Matthew could not immediately connect Jesus with Abraham and with King David, his audience, the Jewish people, would have tuned him out, for the Christ, God’s Messiah, would be of the house and of the lineage of David.
You heard just a moment ago Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Jesus. This section of Scripture could almost be called “the Other Christmas Story” because it’s not the one we’re most familiar with, which comes to us from Luke’s Gospel. Even listening to just a small part of Luke’s telling of the story brings back memories of Christmas’ past. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
Luke’s telling of the Christmas story is poetic and because of our familiarity with it, it’s even a bit nostalgic. It has the power to take us back to Christmas’ past as we reflect on Jesus’ birth. Matthew, of course, tells the same story, that is, he narrates the same birth, but he tells it in a different way. Gone are the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Gone is the political situation that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in the first place. And yes, gone are the cattle lowing and the lowly manger in which the Son of God first laid His head.
For Matthew the Immanuel prophecy is central to the telling of the story. Some 700 years before Jesus was born, Ahaz reigned as King over Judah. Ahaz was not one of Judah’s good kings. In fact, he made a faithless alliance with the Assyrians because he was fearful of their coming into Judah by force. As a consequence, the Israelites suffered a century of servitude. Before that servitude began, however, God made a promise to Judah, the promise that we have before us this morning in the OT reading from Isaiah 7. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
When Matthew quotes this same passage it serves as a powerful reminder, both to Judah, and to all of us, that despite our tendency to stray from God’s will and His ways and despite our sometimes fearful and faithless actions in life, He remains the God of grace who is always WITH us. He is WITH US because Jesus is God Incarnate, that is, He is God in the flesh, who comes to us to bring us grace and forgiveness in so many and varied ways.
Immanuel, the Word made flesh, is WITH US in the reading and in the hearing of God’s Word. I know this point may seem self evident, but it warrants our reflection for a few moments. There are, in fact, at least a couple of different ways to think of God’s Word. Some see the Bible, for instance, as a book of information. It’s a book of history with various facts about the things that happened in the life and ministry of Jesus.
While the Bible is a book of facts, being true in all of it’s parts, it is so much more than a book of facts. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews described God’s Word this way, he said, “(It is) living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight.”
God’s Word is living and active. St. Paul tells us that the Gospel, the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is “the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” It was by His Word that God created everything that exists. Indeed, He said, “let there be light and there was light.” When God’s Word is read or heard it literally accomplishes the things of which it speaks. Why, it even has the power to make the dead alive and to give faith and hope where there is none. As the Scriptures say, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.”
So, where God’s Word is, He is there calling, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping us in the one true faith. And so, Jesus comes to you through His word in a very personal way even today. The promise given through Isaiah, and restated by Matthew, was that Jesus would be called Immanuel, which means God WITH US. Thus Matthew closes out his Gospel with a command and a promise of Jesus. “Teach them all things I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always to very end of the age.”
Beyond His Word, Immanuel is here with you this morning giving you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. While parts of Christendom continue to argue over what Jesus meant when He said, “take, eat, this is My body, and take, drink, this is My blood,” and while many people see the division over what Jesus meant as trivial and a needless haggling over fine theological points, for us, this presence of Jesus in bread and wine, is central to the Gospel itself.
By giving you His body and blood, Jesus literally brings His birth, His life, His cross, His Resurrection and Ascension to you and He gives them to you as the merits and the promises of your faith. He incorporates you into Him and He into you. In a very real sense, you become one with the Almighty.
“With Thee, Lord, I am now united;
I live in Thee and Thou in me.
No sorrow fills my soul, delighted.
It finds its only joy in Thee.
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good!”
Finally, Immanuel is with us in the acts of kindness and in the words of Law and Gospel that we speak to one another as we live out our lives in Christ. Luther was found of calling this aspect of God being with us “the mutual consolation of the brethren.” So, look around you this morning. You are a part of the Body of Christ, the Church. These are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is here for you and you are here for one another and for a world of others who need your tender care and service. Isn’t amazing that God chooses to make Himself known and to be present in a world of sin and death, through people such as us?
What better time to make known the love of God for the world than this most holy season of Christmas? “(The virgin) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name eImmanuel (which means, GOD WITH US.)”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
Posted on December 14, 2022 8:51 AM