Mystery of the Manger

These are the notes for a sermon I was blessed to deliver on Christmas morning. Praise God that he became flesh for us. God be with you this Christmas and always.

Photo by Juan Carlos Leva on Pexels.com

Isaiah 7:10-14

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he[b] said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:18-25

 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.

When examining what the Gospels tell us about the Christmas story, let’s remind ourselves what the Gospels are about. Simply put, the Gospels are perfectly inspired and accurate histories and accounts of Jesus life, miracles, death, and Resurrection.

Secondly, while the Gospels all tell the same story, sometimes almost using the same words, each gospel writer is unique. John, who called himself the beloved disciple, writes firsthand accounts of things that the other three don’t really mention much. There’s some overlap, but he is probably the most unique of the Gospels.

Luke is probably the most concerned about the outsider, the marginalized, and it seems like because he spent so much time with Paul it’s almost Paul’s gospel rather than Luke’s, but we call it Luke’s gospel since he’s the one who wrote it down.

Mark, or the disciple of Jesus known as John Mark, was connected to Peter and his account is action driven and puts in focus a lot of the actions of the apostles and Christ as they moved through time at a very rapid pace. In fact, there have been people who can read the entirety of the Gospel of Mark on stage in a little over an hour and a half. Don’t worry I’m not planning on doing that today.

For today I want to focus on Matthew, however. Matthew is interesting because he is directly the author of the Gospel, he writes it himself and he’s very detail oriented.

One of the details that he focuses on most is Prophecy, and more specifically, Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus is fulfilling every prophecy found in the Scriptures right in front of Matthew, and Matthew wants the audience to know that this is who everyone has been waiting for. Again, Matthew is looking at the facts and the details and is coming to conclusions.  In this way Matthew is a lot like a detective or investigator.

My wife Jaimie and I enjoy watching or solving murder mysteries. Whether it be watching a TV show like Sherlock or Columbo, or solving puzzles in an escape room, we enjoy the “whodunnit” or the puzzle solving a lot. Matthew’s gospel is written in a way that demonstrates that the apostle Matthew had connected the pieces of the puzzle. He was working on finding out who this Jesus person was.

Of course, he’d seen the miracles and he’d been there for the resurrection, but he started to realize that there was more to the story. That’s really the fun of an escape room or a good mystery, finding out what the story is behind the story. Matthew would have read passages from the Hebrew Bible such as the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 7. Isaiah prophesies about how this promised Emmanuel would come to us and be born of a virgin.

This prophecy alone would be enough to make somebody wonder and question how such a thing is possible. Mary the mother of our Lord wonders at how exactly this is going to happen, she wasn’t married and questioned how she could conceive.

BUT!

That’s not even the most important part, it’s important, but it’s not the most important part of that prophecy.

Let’s just focus on that one word, Emmanuel. What is it exactly that Emmanuel means? I know, everybody knows or thinks they know that Emmanuel means “God with us” So, we know what it means technically, “God is with us,” okay that’s nice, but let’s look at it a little deeper. How do we know that God is with us? Let’s think about it from the perspective of a Jewish Shepherd, or the prophet Isaiah, or any of the Jews who lived before Christ’s birth. What exactly would it mean for “God” to be “with us”?

Is God with us in a general sense as he is with everybody? He created everything so I guess that’s true, but what exactly is he doing as “God with us”? Is God with us in battle or struggle or is he just for the one special nation like Israel? Is he with us in a mystical/spiritual sense like the New Age movement says?

Also, if we’re waiting for Emmanuel, as a Jew before Christ’s birth might wonder, “Is God not with us now?” We are waiting for Christ’s return, so if we’re waiting, is God not with us now?

Is God working right now? Was God working before that first Christmas?

These are questions that Matthew would have looked in his (torah) scripture for the answers. He would have wondered, puzzled, wrestled with what it would all mean.

Matthew had to come to some conclusion before he wrote his gospel. I believe it’s evident in Scripture that Matthew did know the truth that God has always been working through history and specifically in people’s lives. That is likely why he includes the genealogy of Christ. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. etc.

Matthew is demonstrating by the Holy Spirit that God has been working in history to bring about his plan. As an apostle Matthew had access to and personally experienced THE Emmanuel, THE “GOD WITH US.”

As we said before, Matthew was there for Christ’s death, Resurrection, Ascension, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So, it’s no wonder that much of his gospel and the Bible at large focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 What is significant about “God with us?” It’s good that God is with us but what does God with us do? What does it mean? What does it mean for me and for you to say that God is with us?

The point of Christmas is always Easter. God with us means that he is taken care of the burden of sin and we’re not alone. God has given us redemption, and not just a simple being forgiven but he then dwells in US. The Holy Spirit makes us his dwelling. It’s not just that we’re neighbors to God, like he’s with us in a general sense, but he’s come to you and me and anyone here who believes. In fact, Christ himself said, “wherever two or more are gathered in my name I am there.” At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he says “And lo, I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” So, this Christmas and the season of the next 12 days, let’s remember that God is with us now and always in Jesus Christ. God, Emmanuel, be with you always. And Merry Christmas

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto on Pexels.com

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