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- Matthew 1:18 - 25
5 year plan
Have you ever put together a 5 year plan for your life? In this plan you may have financial goals, physical fitness goals, relational goals or maybe spiritual goals. Now there is nothing wrong with having goals and plans and pursuits. Those are good things. But soon enough we will need to learn to be flexible when the goals are not met. You will have what appear to be interruptions, like you had a little nest egg and then you had a baby and the nest egg is gone. And the only nest you see on the horizon is an empty nest.
Or you were hoping to be in a bigger house by now but that “perfect” house never came along and now you gotta “make do.” Life is filled with expectations that are often not met. However, the gospel teaches us about a God who takes expectations and overwhelms them with even greater things than we can ever imagine. Sometimes we expect a bit too little instead of too much.
Joseph and Mary
That was definitely true of Joseph and Mary in the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph were a typical Jewish couple engaged to be married. Mary was probably in her early teens and Joseph a bit older. They had committed to marry each other and spent time planning for the wedding, thinking of where they would live, imagining having children and starting a family like most couples do. They had expectations of what the future would hold.
Then something radically changed that neither of them could have ever imagined. Mary suddenly and miraculously became pregnant. And this was from the Holy Spirit of God. Now it is one thing to believe in miracles. It is quite another thing to be at the center of a miracle of this magnitude.
Real life takes over
Mary told Joseph, her fiancé that she was pregnant. And suddenly the life that Joseph imagined having with Mary turned into nothing more than a dream. Real life was about to take over. How would Joseph respond?
Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Joseph was a law abiding Jew. He knew the law and he followed the law and the Jewish law said that in a case like this, the betrothed man is to serve the betrothed woman papers of divorce in the presence of witnesses and “send her away.” From the outside looking in, this would have been normal and the right thing to do.
Thinking it through
However, Joseph was not a robotic law keeper prone to knee jerk reactions. He thought about the situation. He pondered the situation. He did not want to shame Mary or disgrace her before her friends and neighbors. He was weighing the best way to respond to this drastic turn of events. As he was considering what to do, weighing the options, pondering the next step, an angel of the Lord came to Him in a dream. He said, “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.”
The unfolding of a better plan
So what seemed to be a mistake, an unfortunate and painful deviation from “the plan” becomes the unfolding of an eternal plan. Joseph’s plan folds. God’s plan unfolds. It turns out that things were even better than Joseph had imagined they could ever be. He came from a long line of pretty famous and important people. He was in the line of Kings, most importantly King David. And there was a 700-year prophecy about a King who would come and dwell on the throne of David forever.
Not a deviatio
At this point, the little life that Mary and Joseph imagined carving out for themselves would be replaced by the life that God had carved out for them. This was not a deviation or a detour or a mistake. This was an eternal plan formed in the mind of God before the foundation of the world, predicted by the prophets and now coming to fruition through the pregnancy of a virgin betrothed to a Jewish carpenter. It was radically beautiful and radically unexpected. Mary and Joseph would be continually moved from a life of self-direction and self-governing to a life of being led and being directed. The word for this would be faith.
What it doesn’t say
The angel goes on, “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” So the child would be a Son and his name was already chosen as Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. Now notice what the angel does not say about Jesus. He does not say, He will teach people how to overcome their bad habits, or he will put on terrific church services and invite people to come or He will teach people how to be better, nicer and more self-fulfilled.
Instead, He came as Savior to save people. And He would do this quite independently of us. And this is not easily believed because we do not naturally think of ourselves as needing saving. “Yeah, I ain’t perfect but nobody is” or “I need a jumpstart sometimes but in general I am on the right path.” We tend to think of Jesus a good option for self-improvement but that is not what He does or Who He is. He did not come to improve us. He came to save us. And He saves us from something that we cannot undo or saves ourselves from because it is inherent to who we are. It is the corrupt, imperfect nature that cannot be improved on but must be replaced through being born again.
What we need
Much more than a nice life as a typical Jewish couple cutting a new trail together, Mary and Joseph needed a Savior. And much more than seeing our life goals realized and overcoming obstacles to the good life, we all need a Savior too.
How would He save us?
So, how would Jesus do this? He would save people completely and totally by His own doing, with His own efforts, through His own agony on the cross and his own beautiful resurrection from the dead. He would save people by making a one-way covenant in His own blood. This means that the abundant life, true joy, deep peace unaltered by life circumstances, life forever with God and a whole lot of other things would be secured and given to us freely by Jesus’ work, not our own.
God’s love would be demonstrated, not simply spoken. My wife (Melonie) has a little sticky note holder on our hutch and it says, reasons I love you or I love you because. And sometimes I come home and it says things like, “you clean the windows” or “you call me often.” And sometimes she needs to get very, very creative because I don’t always demonstrate my appreciation and love for her in tangible ways. So if it ever says, I love you because you’re breathing or because you turn off the bathroom sink at night, then I know I need to step it up a bit.
God sent the Son
The point is love is demonstrated the best through action and not just words. God sending Jesus to live and die in our place is an act of love, a demonstration of love that will never be outdone. It settles the question does God love me or not? If He gave His Son up to death, then the answer is yes.
God with us
Matthew 1:22 and 23 tells us a little more about this Jesus, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). During the course of your life, you have probably had people come and go. The friends you had when you were eight might not be your best buds anymore. The guys you played football with are living in some other state. The social connections you had 20 years ago have been replaced by a new community. That is quite normal and expected. Very few of us have people in our life from the beginning to the end.
Not only does our relational world change but allot of other things change as well. Our money is not always with us, our health is not always with us, our abilities to do certain things we enjoy are not always in us. And the things we may not want with us seem to never leave.
Still with us
Here Jesus is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This means that the coming of Jesus was not a one and done event that happened back then. Jesus came, lived, died, rose and ascended to heaven yes, but His Spirit is here now. He is not thinking, “I am so glad that’s over. My job is done. Now, it’s up to them to figure things out from here.” Instead, He is with us now. He is building His church now. He is equipping us and guarding us and leading us and loving us now through His ongoing presence with us now.
That means the prayer you may have prayed when you were 10 was not the end of the story but the beginning. Jesus does not swoop in like a Santa Clause figure to grant gifts and then move on to the next person. His gift is Himself, His ongoing presence. Ephesians 3:17, says that Christ actually dwells in our hearts. To dwell is to take up residence, to abide, to consider this place your home. That is the bigger picture of Jesus saving us. He enters into the innermost place of your being and establishes ongoing residence.
The names of Jesus
Now if this sounds a bit intimidating, let’s consider some of the other names that are given to Jesus, seen in Isaiah 9. “…….and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These names represent the best thing imaginable now realized and multiplied beyond imagination through the person of Jesus Christ. Wonderful Counselor points to Jesus’ thorough knowledge of your unique situation and complexities. He knows you. And He knows how to guide you and lead you through all the unique complexities of your life. He listens and He leads.
He is mighty God. He has within Himself total and complete control of all things in all places and in all times. Your life is never outside of His loving control. He is everlasting Father. He is not just Father in the good times or when you appear worthy of His association. He is everlasting. He outlasts your deepest rebellion, your longest cranky mood. To be everlasting Father means that we will never outrun the grace of God or jump the fence of His covenant. It is an everlasting and eternal covenant that cannot be broken.
In Psalm 139, David asks where he could ever go to get away from God’s presence and he lists some possible places: like heaven, like sheol (the place of the dead), the wings of the morning, the uttermost parts of the sea. You can add a few places to the list. But none of these places can push David or us into a space where God is not there. The point is: the everlasting Father cannot be contained or kept away from those He loves.
Prince of Peace
And He shall be called Prince of peace. Now this seems a bit disconnected and hard to believe often times. Shortly after Jesus was born, King Herod goes on a tirade and commits genocide on the youngest people in Israel. Jesus will be attacked both in word and action and eventually killed. Many of His followers would meet the same fate. And if you could use one word to describe your life, it would probably not be peaceful. So how in the world is Jesus Prince of peace?
A different (better) kind of peace
The mystery is solved in John 14:27. Jesus said before His death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The peace we often think of is circumstantial peace, having a put together life without too much disturbance. The peace Jesus offers us is relational peace, peace with God and peace with other people. This is peace in the heart, the innermost place, the confidence that Christ is with us, in us and for us. Therefore we do not need to fear “though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” If God is for us, who can be against us?
When Jesus is called Immanuel, God with us, this is what or Who we get. He is all of these things for us right now and always.
Joseph woke up from sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded Him. He took Mary as his wife but did not have marital relations with her until after the baby had been born. And he called His name Jesus. Joseph’s role to play in this story was to respond to God’s word. He became Jesus’ adopted father and named him therefore bringing him legally and formally into the line of king David.
He would go on to flee to Egypt. And instead of living in Judea where he intended to go, he would move his young family to Galilee, where nobody wanted to live. And Joseph and Mary’s life would be a series of hearing and following the leading of God.
How we respond?
So how do we respond to this story? Christmas time is crazy busy. There is allot to do and prepare for and buy and wrap and if you’re like me re-wrap because you didn’t get it right the first time. If there is one thing to do within a series of allot of things to do, it’s this: Receive the good news of Jesus coming. Think about it, ponder it, absorb it and accept it into the deepest place of your being. So that this amazing Christ, Immanuel, God with us, may dwell in your heart. Let’s pray.