God Is With Us – Dec. 22, 2019

God Is With Us

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matthew 1:18-25

December 22, 2019

Main Idea: God is always with us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Christmas is almost here!  Christmas Eve is the day after tomorrow and today we are celebrating Christmas as a church family.  We have been waiting and preparing.  Our musical groups have been practicing. Our church school teachers have been teaching.  We all have been busy getting our homes, our church, our lives ready to welcome the Christ Child.   We know that Jesus is coming so we wait and get ready.

One person who was not waiting and getting ready for Jesus was the carpenter from Bethlehem, Joseph, son of David.  For Joseph, the eminent arrival of Jesus was a complete surprise.   The scripture tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, which meant he faithfully followed the law of Moses.  From the story we get a sense that Joseph was faithful, dependable, and utterly heartbroken by the surprising and shocking news that Mary, his fiancé, was going to have a baby.  The future he had planned was thrown out the window.  He would not marry Mary and have a life with her.  He would be alone.

Joseph went to sleep in this heartbroken state.  And in his sleep he was surprised again.  An angel appeared to him, telling him surprising things.  He was to believe Mary’s surprising story about her child from the Holy Spirit.  He was to break the righteous law that said to put her aside.  He was to claim and name this child Jesus whose name means YHWH saves.

Not only that, but all of this surprising turn of events fulfilled the word of God through the prophet Isaiah,  ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ (Matt 1:23, Isaiah 7:14).

Joseph was completely surprised by all of this. Nothing in his life thus far would have prepared him for this.  And yet, he took it in stride.  When he awoke he did exactly as the angel had commanded him.  He married Mary and when the baby was born, he named him Jesus, YHWH saves, Emmanuel, God is with us.   Joseph put aside his hurt, anger, and surprise to say yes, to God, and to Mary, and to this extraordinary child.

In our yearly preparations for the holidays are we sometimes surprised by God? In our frantic busyness, surprises are often unwelcome complications. What? the package won’t arrive until the 28th!  What? How many people are they bringing to Christmas dinner?  What did the doctor say?  What? The credit card didn’t work?  We do usually enjoy surprises under the Christmas tree, but these are surprises that we plan to receive!

I think God surprises us regularly and in today’s story there are surprises for us.  The angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus which means YHWH saves.  From what do we need saving?  A lot! We need saving from division, from fear, and from our inhumanity which causes us to see others as problems to solve rather than people to help.  We need saving from our own sinfulness which leads us away from God.  We need saving from our despair and inertia which drowns out hope and vision. 

Jesus, Joseph’s tiny child, saves us from all of that.  Just as Joseph gets up and turns his world around, so we too can embrace the salvation Jesus offers.

The angel gives Joseph another name for this child – “Emmanuel which means God is with us.”  Matthew quotes this from Isaiah 7:14.    This is First Isaiah speaking to a king and a nation in great fear.  The northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Syria were pressuring King Ahaz of Judah to join in their revolt against the empire of Assyria.  Ahaz and Judah wanted nothing to do with this war.  They simply wanted peace and the assurance of God’s presence.  Isaiah tells them that “God is with them.”  For Joseph, Mary and their contemporaries, Emmanuel meant so much for they also wanted peace and the assurance of God’s presence in the midst of Roman oppression. 

We too yearn for peace and the assurance of God’s presence in the midst of the dizzyingly complicated world in which we live. Jesus, Emmanuel, Joseph’s tiny child gives us this.  Just as Joseph trusted in God, so we too can trust that God is with us.

As Matthew’s Christmas story continues, so do the surprises; first the Magi and then the terror of Herod’s rage, the welcome found in Egypt and the journey to Nazareth.  Throughout it all Joseph goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his child Jesus.  He is steadfast in his love and care for both Jesus and Mary. 

This is the good news of the Christmas story, the incredible surprise to top all surprises, that God saves us and is with us through this tiny baby born in a tiny village, to parents who were surprised by God’s calling in their lives.  In the small and vulnerable child, God’s power and love are revealed.  Just as Joseph and Mary are invited to care for the child, so we too are invited to participate with God in bringing light and life to the world.

And how is that for a surprise?  That the maker of the universe, the LORD of all, invites us, calls us, empowers us, needs us to step out of our own individual concerns to share God’s love for the world.  God is with us at this moment and at every moment.  Thanks be to God for Joseph who models for us how to respond to surprise, with love and commitment.

Let us pray,

Incarnate God, we thank you for Joseph who was willing to set aside everything to participate with Mary in the grandest adventure; loving and raising Jesus, the son of God.  Help us to trust your leading so that we too might participate in your divine plan.  Remind us that you are with us at all times and in all circumstances.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.