Today we have a birth narrative from Matthew. There is a lot packed into a very short passage. Not all of the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
Mark starts his gospel at the Jordan River with John the Baptist.
John begins with the word: The word made flesh, the light of the World…and John the Baptist who came to testify to the light.
Luke also begins with the birth of John the Baptist but goes on to give us the lovely stories of the angel’s visits to Mary and Elizabeth and to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah.
Matthew is the only Gospel to focus on the angel’s visit to Joseph.
Joseph is the star of this Gospel passage. And there is a lot going on in Joseph’s story.
Joseph’s story begins with this dream of an Angel’s visitation. And Joseph has many dreams that follow.
Matthew’s Gospel approaches the birth of Jesus from the sure perspective that Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of Man. We are given this mysterious dream of the angel who tells Joseph that the child conceived in Mary’s womb is from the Holy Spirit. But just before this story, in our opening passage, is the genealogy of Jesus which reads as a list of names from Joseph going all the way back to Abraham and importantly going through the House of David.
According to the prophets, the messiah is to come from the House of David. And this genealogy makes that very clear. It is important that Joseph is the father of this child to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah has foretold. It is also important that this child be from a young woman to fulfill the words the Lord spoke through the same prophet.
The Lord gave Isaiah two realities. And we embrace these two realities as the Son of god and the Son of man. We say Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. The prophet says he is to be named Emmanuel which means “God with us.”
Some say no one was caught more unaware by this mystery than Mary and Joseph themselves! But what they did with their mysterious circumstance is what helped bring love into the world. Mary said yes to this baby. And Joseph said yes to this baby against all odds. The angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus. Which means “God is your salvation.”So we also have two meanings in the names given to the Son of Man and the Son of God. God is among us, and very importantly God is a loving healing and saving God. (In case you have any doubts about what it will be like to have God with you.) You shall call him Jesus.
Joseph goes on to have more dreams. Listening to God and his heart, I’m sure the resonance there, he plans for this child. After the Magi visit, Joseph is interrupted by yet another dream: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13). And Joseph does so.
But again after settling in Egypt with Mary and Jesus, an angel of the Lord appeared to him again and instructed him to go back to the Land of Israel. Since Herod was dead, Joseph planned to go back to Judea; but just when they were about to reach the southern kingdom, learning that it was Herod’s son upon the throne, he had another dream and the Angel told Joseph to head north instead into Galilee.
God chose to come into the world as a child. Not a powerful King equal to Herod… but as a vulnerable child who first needs our protection. Joseph goes to great lengths to protect his family.
There is a famous quote I love by Meister Eckhart, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, because God is always needing to be born.” And the story of Joseph reminds us that “We are all meant to be father’s of God, because God is always needing to be raised up in this world.” Before he was raised up to God, Jesus needed to be nurtured and raised up on this Earth.
When we think of immigrants, migrants and refugees it would be helpful to remember Joseph and Mary were refugees; loving parents traveling great lengths and against all odds to raise up Jesus. They were like many of the people who are trying to cross our southern border fleeing persecution, gang violence, communities with astounding murder rates and natural disasters.
When we think of God among us: Emmanuel, it may be helpful to remember that Jesus does not provide an easy road, but requires us to take risks with a love like Joseph’s that will empower us.
When we think of our own decisions, nudges or even dreams about what God is doing in our lives, it may be helpful to remember that unexpected challenges and turns in the road, may be God leading us in ways we cannot anticipate.
God among us is only comforting because the reality of that concept wakes us up to the people around us. To the people we love and to the strangers we meet. When we think how difficult this all may be, it is helpful to remember that as as the body of Christ, we are doing this together. We represent God with us to our community.
Jesus, “God with us” came to show us how to access the divinity within us (which is always to tap into that foundational love). It is our calling to be those mothers and fathers for others on this earthly journey.
Matthew gives us the story of Joseph: A “righteous” man (as he’s named). In this story, he is a man who accepts this most incredible idea that the Holy Spirit has delivered to us a gift in the form of the son of man - who will show us what it means to follow in the steps of the Son of God. Who will give us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
God is with us from the beginning until the end of time. Matthew gives us a child in swaddling clothes.
Each birth is miraculous. Even when a pregnancy is planned, I’d say many parents-to-be still marvel at how this really has come to be? New life. A whole new person for us to cherish and teach and lead in loving ways!
We as the body of Christ are to continually raise up this divinity in each new child, through love, and in confidence.
Matthew wants us to be fully confident in this message.
For in the last line of this Gospel Jesus tells us
“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Amen.