Poor Joseph must have been quite confused when he discovered that his bride-to-be was pregnant. I’m sure he was very upset and sad to see that Mary was pregnant and that he was not the father. Yet, he did not want “to put her to shame” (Matthew 1:19), so he decided to quietly divorce her. In the culture there at the time, to be engaged was a legal contract which was similar to marriage. If Joseph had wanted to be vindictive, he could have had her stoned for adultery. But, in his mercy, he decided not to do this.
However, before he could do anything, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. Like his famous namesake in the Old Testament, he received the truth from God through dreams. The angel tells him: “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” (Matthew 1:20-21).
And Joseph believed. It was an incredible thing to believe, and yet he did. There’s a lot of faith in this whole event. Mary believed when the angel told her she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, and Joseph believed the angel when he told him this was true. And we too believe that this is true, that Jesus is – as his name means – “Yahweh [who] saves” us from our sins.
And we are joined with the rest of the Church who believes that through the virgin Mary the Lord fulfilled His promise given throughout the Old Testament, including in Isaiah 7 where he declared: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
God promised that Immanuel would come. Immanuel means “God with us,” and through the virgin, God Himself would come to be with us.
Finally, after about 700 years after Isaiah’s time, this promise was about to be fulfilled. We will celebrate it next Sunday on Christmas morning. The promise of the Lord’s coming in the flesh was fulfilled on Christmas. The Old Testament Church looked for his arrival and now he is on the cusp of arriving – this Immanuel who will be given birth by the virgin Mary in order to save us from our sins.
His arrival will be announced by angels to shepherds in the field. As young Joseph and his virgin bride Mary are in the barn with the animals, tending their newborn baby, angels joyfully announce the savior’s birth to poor shepherds in the field. The Savior, Jesus the Christ, has finally come; God has come in person to be with us. But, he has not come in power and glory as the king he, in fact is. No, he comes as a humble baby born to poor parents, his deity veiled in flesh and blood. And his arrival is announced to poor shepherds in the fields.
While the man who proclaimed himself king, Herod, lived a few miles away in a luxurious, warm palace, the real King of Kings was wrapped in swaddling clothes and attended by his parents and, soon, those shepherds who faithfully come to see their Savior who was still yet nursing and dependent on his mother and earthly father.
What a way for God to break into the world. What an unexpected manner of his arrival. Truly, it is a sign for the virgin to give birth to Immanuel, “God with us.” It would be unexpected, but for God’s promise to come to us in this manner. Jesus is God in the flesh, both true God and true man. He has come to reconcile us sinful humanity back to our holy Lord God, and we see this reconciliation in his own person where he brings together Deity and Humanity.
So, God comes to us to save us from our sins. He comes not for the righteous, but for the unrighteous. He comes not for the well, but for the sick. He comes not for the rich in works, but for the poor in spirit. He comes for us, sinners that we are, in order to bring us back to the Father who created us and who loves us.
What a God! To come down to us as a little baby, born to poor parents, willingly veiling his glory in flesh and blood for our sake so that he could serve us by dying for our sins so that we may be forgiven and reconciled back to the Lord so that He may be our God.
I mentioned earlier the faith of Mary and Joseph, and also in the events of Jesus’ birth we see the faith of the shepherds in believing and seeing through that veil of flesh and blood their God who is with us.
And our God is still with us. Immanuel has not left us. He is still in our presence, this time veiled in the humble word of Gospel and the physical Sacraments, accessible only through the eyes of faith. He comes to us through the preached Word, the waters of Baptism, the bread and wine of His Supper. He is still with us, veiling his glory among us for our sakes so that he may continue to serve us by giving us forgiveness of sins and his righteousness as a gift, so that we may continue to be reconciled to God, to each other, and to creation itself.
What a God to do this for us! We could not ascend up to him, so he came down to us. We could not follow God’s Law and be perfect, so he perfectly fulfilled God’s Law on our behalf. We could not atone for our sins, so he atoned for them. And we can not make our bodies live again, so he will do that as well.
Because, ultimately, we not only look back to his arrival at Christmas, but also forward to his return on the Last Day for the resurrection of our bodies to bring us into life everlasting.
The Church of all times and all places is focused on Christ in all his advents. In his first advent, our “Yahweh who saves” came on Christmas morning to ultimately deal with sin and death by dying and rising. And now, in his second advent, he is still “God with us” as he dwells with us through Word and Sacrament. And ultimately, in his third and final advent, he will return to complete what he started by casting out sin and death forever in order to bring us into his restored creation as restored people, body and soul.
This is what the season of Advent is really all about. Looking back to Christ’s first coming, looking forward to his return, and remembering that he is still with us now. For, he is always “God with us.”
(Image of the Dream of St. Joseph by Gaetano Gandolfi – Web Gallery of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5802153 )