Emmanuel – God Is With Us

With Christmas being only a short time away, we are in the Advent Season. It is a time to prepare our hearts, souls and spirits for the coming of Christ. So let us today turn our thoughts to the First Advent and look back and view those days from the time of Mary and Joseph. Our text for today is Matt. 1:18-25. Let me share this with you.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Have you ever given thought to how Mary and Joseph reacted to the first Advent? Was it a time of joy or was it a period of trial and tribulation? We today look at Advent as a great season of expectant joy, but Mary and Joseph at first probably thought differently. Many times things that seem like large trials in our life may turn out to be great joys, especially when we trust God to work things out. We have come to know Romans 8:28 as the principle of faith in God’s word. It says: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. And to this verse I want to add the key verse from our text, vs. 23, which comes from Isa. 7:14 and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). As Christians, no matter what comes our way in life, our faith says to us, Immanuel, God is with us”.

Through the centuries artists have depicted Mary as the blessed mother of Jesus. They saw her as an emblem of beauty and as a seal of purity. But was her heart filled with joy or did she suffer anguish for what was to happen? For no sooner had the angel Gabriel left, Mary probably sensed a deep and frightful darkness. For how was she able to face Joseph, the man to which she was engaged to marry? If ever a suffering soul had to seek strength and faith it was Mary. Who else but God could she turn to? For how was she to face Joseph, knowing that she was going to bear a child and she and Joseph had no sexual union? How would Joseph react and what would be their relationship now that she was pregnant? There were probably many questions with no immediate answers.

The text we read speaks about Joseph’s part in the whole matter. However, before the angel spoke with him, he also suffered the anguish of a broken heart. For Joseph loved Mary, but the picture of Mary as the lily of his eye began to wilt and die. His heart was broken and he suffered this great trial – his espoused wife was with child. He was concerned about the people talking and how the gossip would tear both of them apart. The people would be questioning, was Mary unfaithful to Joseph or did they break the tradition of engagement and allow their passion or lust to rule their lives?

From Joseph’s viewpoint – he could not fulfill the marriage, but neither could he consent to making Mary a public example by divorcing her. Our text says in verse 19: Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

The custom in those days was you were considered to be married when you became engaged. It was a legal contract even though the two did not live together nor engage in marital practices. If he divorced her, the public would know she was unfaithful to her vow; but if he would take her as his wife, how could he be assured of what had really happened? Joseph must of anguished over this. How did Mary become pregnant? It wasn’t my doing – how did it happen? Is this really of God as she said? I don’t understand!

And so for a while they were separated. Mary went to be with her cousin, Elizabeth, who was 6 months pregnant with her son John the Baptist. Needing help and comfort, Mary found it with Elizabeth, for she was able to praise God for what was happening. In the well-known “Magnificat”, Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Mary was starting to live out the word Immanuel. For in her spirit – that part of our being that fellowships with God – she knew the meaning of Immanuel – God with us.

As much as we see a wonderful relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and seeing that Mary was accepting the fact of the first Advent, we still have to look at Joseph. He was still in agony. First there was Mary’s problem. What am I to do with my pregnant wife who is carrying a child that is not mine? And second, she was no longer were Joseph could see her and talk with her. He couldn’t look her in the eye. He couldn’t get the true facts of what had happened. I believe Joseph suffered a lot during this period of time, for she was away for three months (Luke 1:56).

Many years ago I heard about a young wife and her husband who both came to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Both were growing in their faith. The wife, however, carried a burden for her mother, who was an alcoholic, and she wanted to tell her mother how the Lord had changed their lives. While visiting her mother she had the opportunity to speak with her. But knowing that she did not believe in Christ, she said, let me pray with you that God (Immanuel) would be with us. After praying, the daughter shares how they both accepted Christ. How Christ came to earth to share his life and how he died for each of us and for our sins. It was this personal testimony of Christ dying for each of us that caused that mother to see her sin and she accepted the Lord that day. What agony that daughter had, yet it was her faith in Immanuel – God with us, that gave her strength to pray and speak with her mother.

Joseph needed that knowledge and strength. And in his misery he may have gone to the sanctuary one Sabbath in Nazareth and perhaps heard the scripture read that day and it may have been Isaiah 7:14. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Never did Joseph hear those words as clear as he heard them that day. They continued to echo in his mind all day long. That night as he lay on his bed, he couldn’t sleep for the thought of Mary and those words of scripture. As Joseph lay there verse 20 of our text takes over and we read: But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Joseph experienced the term Immanuel. For truly God was with him. He was given the explanation of why Mary was pregnant. It was of God – by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus was conceived. It was the working of God and woman to bring about the first Advent, the incarnation of Christ, the union of divinity with humanity. Immanuel – God with us.

We then read what Joseph did in verse 24. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. By taking Mary home by law he consummated the marriage. Our text goes on to say: But he did not consummate their marriage (sexual union) until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. A marriage was consummated when the bride and groom have sexual union. In Joseph’s case, he refrained from having a union with Mary until after Jesus was born.

We have a lot to learn from this event in Christ’s life even before his birth. He in the form of God was with Mary and Joseph. The same is true for all of us. We need to personally understand the name and title of Jesus. The term Immanuel is really a title for our Lord and Savior. He came to earth, God incarnate, God in the flesh, to save us. Like the mother we spoke about who accepted Christ, she didn’t realize that Christ came personally for her. Christ came for each of us and we need to understand the name Immanuel as meaning God is with us. He has come to live and dwell in the hearts of all believers and we need to recognize that trials and tribulations can turn into joys, if we only allow God to work his will in our lives. Joseph could have divorced Mary – but his faith in God, his trust and desire to do God’s will, allowed him to take Mary home as his wife.

I pray that this Advent season will strengthen your faith and that you will truly understand Christ’s title of Immanuel – God with us. Amen. Join me in prayer.

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 61:1-11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.  They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.  Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.  For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.  I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Gospel Lesson: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.