Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Today we hear the story of the call of Joseph. Joseph is unique in that very little is mentioned about the man who was the earthly father of Jesus. Yes, we have the figure of Joseph in our nativity set. Some churches even cast someone to play the part of Joseph, but he’s often treated as an extra. We know more about Santa Claus than we do about Joseph, and Santa Claus does not exist except in the imaginations of millions of children around the world. But here’s a shocking bit of information, although it is something we all know. This passage is not about Joseph. At its heart, this passage is about Christ.
Immanuel. God with us. This is a common theme throughout both Judaism and Christianity. Throughout the whole of salvation history, God has been a God who has come down to meet us where we are. In fancy theological terms, we call this a theophany. This is what makes the Lord God unique. The Lord God comes to meet us where we are. No other god comes down to meet with and walk amongst his people. Sure the Greek gods came down from Mt. Olympus, but it wasn’t for the same reason and the Lord God.
The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation. God came down and walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God came down and guided his people out of Egypt as a pillar of smoke during the day and as a pillar of fire during the night. God came down to Mt. Sinai to give Moses the Ten Commandments. God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit during our baptisms.
And then there is the ultimate act of Immanuel, the birth of the Christ Child. God became truly human and took on the full weight of human sin, died, and was raised from the dead after three days. God comes and meets us where we are.
Sometimes Immanuel meets and exceeds our every expectation; God showing his power to provide for his people. And then there are the times in which Immanuel is everything but what we expected; God sending of his Son to a carpenter and his wife to be, not to powerful leader.
This is something that is often overlooked especially during the Christmas season. For the most part, we fall into one of two camps. There’s the “me” group, mainly focused only on what they are getting for Christmas. And there’s the “gotta-get-it-done group” which focuses on cleaning the house, wrapping the gifts, baking the cookies, etc. In other words, they have to get it done before company arrives. Very few people take the time to really think about what the Christmas season is really about. Very few people think about the ultimate gift God gave us out of pure love. This gift of God, God’s only Son, Jesus the Christ, is the one to save his people from their sins. Notice how God works to save his people. It’s not from up high in heaven. God becomes human. Immanuel. There’s one passage that so completely sums up this ultimate gift of God and it’s one we all know by heart. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
For us as Christians, this season is about hope, anticipation, and preparation. Not only do we prepare for and anticipate the Christ-child, we also prepare for and anticipate Christ’s second coming. We prepare for and anticipate Immanuel. That is the true meaning of Christmas, the hope and promise of salvation brought by Immanuel as a free gift of God.