2 December 2012
Point of Emphasis: God with us is our hope in life
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)
There is no doubt that it is Christmas time. You have heard the songs, seen all the signs, even put up your own decorations. It is the Christmas season, or as the traditional church calendar called it: Advent. Advent is derived from the Latin word for "coming".
Advent is a time of waiting; a celebration of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is celebrated the four Sundays prior to the day of Christmas and has been used in a variety of ways in different church traditions, but all of these varieties are set with the single purpose of proclaiming, celebrating, and honoring the coming of Jesus. For the next few weeks we too will be celebrating the coming of Jesus and celebrating advent through the four themes of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. All of these lead up to our Christmas Eve service where we highlight Christ.
Hope is a word that we use more often than we think. Typically it comes like, "I hope we make it to the playoffs" or "I hope they got all of the cancer." Both of these terms are appropriate uses of hope, which is defined as "a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment." (World English Dictionary). However, the usage of this term in relation to Christ falls into a different category. The hope that we have in Christ not only has consequences that are far more lasting but also has the ability to provide peace and encouragement worldly hope cannot.
This morning we begin this advent season by looking at one of the classic Christmas texts and discussing the hope the coming Christ brought to us. Read this text and discuss with your class how God with Us brings and provides hope.
God with Us Casts out Fear
Central to this passage is the position in the text of the fulfillment of the prophecy that the virgin shall conceive and have a son. This is a text from Isaiah 7:14, a text that embodies what hope is. In Isaiah we find the prophecy given, at first, to a people in peril needing to know the Lord will provide. The virgin conception is a sign from God that he is about to do his miraculous work. Most think of the virgin birth as the main miracle, but it is really the sign signaling God's deliverance. It ends with a word "Immanuel" and then Matthew provides a translation for it: "God with Us". The Hebrew phrase "call his name" also means to proclaim or make known. So the verse teaches that the birth of a son to a virgin will "make known" that God is once again with man. This is remarkable since there had been no revelation from God for 400 years.
In the text we see that an implication of God being with us in Jesus Christ is that he casts out all fear. Notice what the angel said to Joseph in this text: " ' Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife,'" the remainder of the passage tells of what will occur in Mary, but we must first notice the call to not be afraid. This is not a major force of this text, but it is an example of the implications of what "God with us" means.
I would imagine fear, anger, embarrassment, and despair were all on the emotional pallet of Joseph when the angel appeared to him. Here was an upright young man who has just found out his wife is pregnant and he knows he is not the father. This must have been difficult for him. He is told to not fear. Because God is sovereign in every circumstance we must not fear, but hope, since God is with us in all things. The believer must learn to hope in the work of God in their life believing with Jeremiah, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jer 29:11).
God with Us Saves us from Sins
The second thing to notice from this passage is the main reason for the coming of Jesus Christ: Salvation. In the angel's description to Joseph he says that the child will come "for he will save his people from their sins." Jesus or Iesous is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua or Joshua literally meaning "Yahweh saves".
This highlights the necessity of the sacrifice that saves mankind to be a man. Jesus has to be one of us to pay the price for us. However, because man is impotent because of sin, only God had the power to be able to offer the appropriate sacrifice for mankind. The atoning work of the cross needed to be from one who was both human and divine. This occurs in Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Jesus is fully God and fully man, and to be such he had to come to man in the form of a baby straight from heaven. God with us means that God can now act for us. Christmas must always come before Easter, the manger before the cross.
God with Us is Our Only Hope
Finally, we must see that "God with us" is the only way for us to have any sense of real hope in this life. Whatever struggles we may experience are real problems. They affect each of us individually in ways that are difficult to cope with at times. These difficult times can dominate our life, they make us fearful, bitter, depressed, distracted, and confused (as it did Joseph). When we are focused on these struggles we epitomize the opposite of what hope is, we become hopeless. We live where we can't "see the light at the end of the tunnel," wondering "when will this end?" For some of us this is our reality, our life situation, like Joseph. A seemingly impossible situation is before us, but we must not fear, we must hope.
Compare your struggles them to reality that Christ has borne all our sins, carried our sorrows, that He has canceled all our debts, and allowed us to be adopted us as God's children. In reflection of these things (and many more) we can understand the true hope of Christmas, that God is with Us.
As we live our lives this Christmas let us live it in the anticipation of the manger that holds the hope of the world. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.