Matthew 1:20–23: 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. She 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 Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Matthew tells the grownups the Christmas story. That Luke business comes next week for the actual holiday. It’s the family friendly version. The angel will visit Mary and she’ll sing a hymn. The shepherds will look peaceful. More angels. More hymns.
Today we get the mess. It’s more my style. The birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. Mary was engaged to Joseph, but she got pregnant. From the Holy Spirit. From hearing the Word. She’s totally still a virgin. And Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. That means he didn’t believe her. Which is probably not unfair. You have to admit how it looks.
Remember that, grownups, when the world doesn’t understand the reason for the season. Nobody was converted by Christmas decorations. Ever. Not even just the secular side. Look at the nativity and tell me someone could look at it and proclaim “Hey, look, that baby is fully God and fully man, Son of the Father, born of the virgin. He’s going to die on the cross and rise from the dead to forgive us our sins.” You have to admit how it looks.
It’s a truth that bears repeating. You’re not going to figure this out on your own. It has to be revealed. So an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained it. “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. She 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 Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
So Joseph woke from sleep and did as the angel commanded. And you have to admit how it looked. To all of Nazareth, Mary looked unfaithful. And a little crazy, because she stuck to the story. Yet she is blessed among women, because she is the mother of God. Joseph looked like an old fool, yet he believed where so many didn’t. The more they believe, the worse they look. It follows them. Watch how many times only the enemies of Christ refer to him as Joseph’s son. It’s a jibe. You have to admit how it looks.
Especially to the Pharisees who look so amazing all the time. Who always behave in public. Who have perfect families. But the Pharisees weren’t perfect. They were just good at hiding what was wrong. They were good at excusing it. Blaming others. Anything but confessing what’s wrong to be sin and hoping God would be merciful to sinners, which is sort of the whole point of the religion. The believing Mary and Joseph looked like sinners and fools. The unbelieving Pharisees looked righteous. Remember that, grownups, when you want to measure Christianity by what you see in each other.
It’s a great temptation. How much good do you do? How proper does your family look? How much praise can you muster? We love to measure how things look. But how did Mary look, even to Joseph? How does Jesus look hanging on the cross where He saved the world that couldn’t save itself? The Lord wasn’t kidding when He said the world will hate you. He meant it when He said this is foolishness to the wise. You’re not going to figure this out on your own. It has to be revealed. Christianity is never measured in you, your works, your feelings. It’s measured in what God says about you. What God does for you. It’s measured in His name. Jesus. He will save His people from their sins. Immanuel. God with us.
He became the same. To dwell in creation, alongside us, in sin and misery. God almighty became an infant. Jesus is actually God. The Son of God made flesh. Fully God. Fully man. God in a box. He knows what He looks like. The more faithful He is, the more the crowds turn on Him. They love Jesus the healer. But they flee from the Jesus who says unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood they have no life with Him. And so it is today. We love the Jesus who tells us to get along and not worry about the little things. Even though we’re terrible at both. We love the Jesus who doesn’t need to bear the cross. But we can’t even agree on where to put a manger. No matter how we present ourselves in public, things aren’t going as well as you pretend.
So this is your Jesus. Listen. The thing is, if Jesus didn’t need to die for what you want to come true, you’re probably thinking of the wrong guy. It’s ok. Nobody figures it out on their own. It’s always been revealed. Because faith comes by hearing, not looking. Look at the cross. It doesn’t look like much. No wonder the world mocks us. Yet the God man Jesus, born of Mary, would not come down from there. He who was worthy of all honor and praise bore mockery and abuse, suffering and death for you. He came to assume your weakness, and carry your sins. The ones others belittle you for. The ones you hide so well. The ones that prove you don’t measure up. The ones that make you look like a bad Christian. The ones it’s easier to hide or excuse. He saves you from your sins. All of them. He bears our humiliations, our sins, our weaknesses. He bears what others whisper. Jesus died only for the sinners. For me. For you. It’s finished. You are measured by that cross.
It gives a new identity. Mary is blessed among women. Even the mother of God. You are holy and worthy of love. You are baptized, and even now wear robes of righteousness. You’re not going to figure it out. It has to be revealed. But it is. This is who you are now. A child of God. He said so at that font. Nothing you do can change that. Nothing you do can improve that. Nothing needs improving though. Jesus is enough. He has saved you from your sins. Amen.