The holy Gospel begins with these words: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” The word translated “birth” can also mean the beginning or origin of something or someone. It can also mean the genealogy of a person. Saint Matthew in the very first words of the Gospel he wrote down says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” The word there translated “genealogy” is the same Greek word translated “birth” in the first verse of tonight’s Reading.
The word that is being translated is “genesis.” We know this as the name of the first book of the Old Testament. The word appears again here in the first book of the New Testament. In the Old Testament book of Genesis, God described the origin of all things: the sun, moon, and the stars in the heavens, the world, the seas, the plants, the birds and fish, the animals, and last but not least, man. Unlike God, mankind had an origin. Adam was created from the dust of the earth, and Eve from a piece from his side or rib. But God existed from all eternity.
God has no genesis. He has no beginning, no origin, no birth.
But today we celebrate that God was born.
Jesus Christ is not merely a Man. He is called “Immanuel”, which translated means, “God with us.” Jesus is God who lives with us. His birth is not by the normal human way. His biological father is not Joseph. Instead, Jesus was conceived from the Holy Spirit, as the angel attests. So Jesus is fully God, equal to the Father.
Yet Jesus is also fully Man. He is truly the son of Mary, the blessed Virgin. This is no pretend conception. Jesus was truly conceived in Mary, although without an earthly father.
So Jesus is true flesh. He is Man. He is born and has a birthday. He has a genesis, an origin, although as true God, He has no origin or beginning.
Today we celebrate the birth of the birthless One, who existed for ages before His birth in Bethlehem. Today is the beginning of the One who has no beginning. Today He emerges into the world from His mother’s womb, although He was the One who created the entire world, indeed, He created His own mother. What mystery of mysteries this is, beyond our comprehension!
Saint Joseph failed to understand the situation at first. He thought Mary was an adulteress. This would be a perfectly reasonable conclusion under other circumstances. How could Joseph grasp that this was the incarnation of the eternal God in human flesh? How could he see Mary as the Mother of God?
To be fair to Joseph, when he is told by the angel, he believes. He is obedient to the Word of the angel and takes care of the precious treasure in her womb, who is the Mystery of the ages.
We know what he eventually found out: The culmination of history was found in a tiny Baby in His mother’s womb, who is the Lord of all. The Mightiest became the Lowest.
All this is for us. He took our flesh because He has loved us enough to live our life. He embraced the name Immanuel, because He did not want to be “God far away who keeps His distance because we are filthy sinners.” No, He drew near. He became us. He lived our life of struggle and pain, because He wanted to bring us salvation.
After all, we are filthy sinners. He did not wait until the human race was worthy of Him. No, He came in spite of, or rather, because of our unworthiness. If we did not need saving, He would not need to come.
So He came to save His people from their sins. We might stumble at those words. “His people”? Does that mean only the Jews? Jesus truly was a Jew, the son of David and son of Abraham. His biological people are not us, unless we happen to be of that family tree as well.
But Jesus showed who His people were soon enough. The Gentiles come in the very next verse in Matthew after tonight’s Holy Gospel. The magi are drawn from afar. Who draws them? The Lord does, of course. Human wisdom does not comprehend the mystery of the ages. But the Lord of all wisdom brings the Gentiles to His house. They enter, and are not cast out as unclean. They worship, and they are not slain for their blasphemous presumption. The Child of heaven receives their worship and gifts.
Who are His people? Anyone He chooses to be His, whether those of His own kin or any other. Those who are His flesh and blood who reject Him are not His own. On the other hand, those who are Gentiles who believe are His people. The Savior comes for people of all nations, the Jew first and then the Greek.
So you also are His people. You also are claimed by Him. For you He came. His peace is extended to you through His holy life.
Tonight the angel has spoken to you the Word of God. Through Matthew’s pen, God’s message in Joseph’s dream has reached your ears. “That which is conceived in Mary 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).”
Now Joseph obeyed the word of the angel by taking Mary to be his wife instead of divorcing her.
How do we obey the words of the angel? First of all, by believing, which is what Joseph did. We comprehend and trust that the holy Baby was God with us. Of course, He did not remain a Baby, but grew into the Man who conquered all of sin and death for us. He did all that in order to save us from our sins, so that He could be Immanuel, God with us, forever and ever.
So let us obey the angel by treating the Lord Jesus as God with us. We should not treat Him as God whom we occasionally visit. We should not act as if He is God to whom I pray when I have problems, but otherwise I completely ignore Him.
He wanted to live with us and resolved to do it so strongly that He suffered all the pains and illnesses of this sinful world, and more besides.
Do we want to live with Him? Do we make Him the most important priority in our lives? Will we make His Divine Service the number one priority in our lives? Or will other things shove it aside from time to time? This Divine Service is when He acts the most like God with us. He speaks to us. He feeds us. He shares His presence with us more tangibly than anywhere else. If we believe He is Immanuel, then surely we will eagerly desire to come where He wants to be with us.
When we fail in various ways to treat Him as Immanuel, then He reminds us that His name is also Jesus. He is Yahweh the Lord who saves. He forgives our sins. When we come to Him He will speak His absolution to us. This is His earnest desire for us. He does not want us to suffer under the burden of our sins. He wants to release us so that we have the freedom from sin and death that He came into human flesh to give. This was His exact purpose in coming into human flesh, as the angel says.
We may sometimes become confused. “I am not worthy of Christ,” we might say, which is true enough. “Therefore I will stay away from Him.” That is foolish, but it is what our human nature wants to do ever since Adam and Eve hid from the presence of the Lord in the Garden.
But He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden. I am your Brother, and share your flesh and blood. I am not a distant, unapproachable God. I want to give you the light and life of My presence. Come to Me, and I will be Immanuel for you.”
In His Name, the only Name of salvation, the God Man, Jesus our dear Lord. Amen.
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