Sermon for Christmas Day, 2006: Matthew 1:18-25
Let us gaze upon the Holy Babe of Bethlehem today. In faith, let us adore Him. But how do we view the events of Christmas? How do we interpret the great happenings that began at Nazareth with Gabriel's message to Mary, and culminating in a manger in Bethlehem? The holy Gospel writers, including Saint Matthew, wrote historical events, not fables. These are not myths and legends. They are part of reality, not fantasy. Yet we should not view these matters as merely human events. Natural goings-on have limitations on what can and cannot happen. But in the Christmas story, we have events that far exceed what is possible. We have the incredible and the fantastic taking place within history.
Before he heard the angel's message, Joseph tried to view these events as merely human. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, he naturally jumped to the perfectly human conclusion - that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph was not some poor, superstitious, ignorant country bumpkin who either did not know where babies come from, or else naturally assumed that virgin births happen all the time. Old Testament Law indicated that a woman found not to be a virgin before her wedding would be subject to stoning. At the very least, even if the death penalty was not carried out, public disgrace would follow public divorce.
So when Joseph decided to divorce his espoused wife, he was being merciful by not seeking maximum punishment or disgrace. Yet he was also a just man, and would not be joined with a loose woman. For so he assumed Mary to be. Joseph correctly knew that union with unrighteousness is to be avoided. Joseph could not simply forgive Mary and go on with the marriage. That was not an option, because she was clearly not repentant of the sin that everyone assumed she had committed. We are not sure what she said, if anything, in her defense. Presumably, she was either silent (after all, who would believe her anyway?) or else she claimed innocence. To those who view these events as merely human history, Mary cannot be innocent.
So the only other option is that Mary must have been an unrepentant sinner. To such as will not repent, we are supposed to retain their sin. How could anyone know that these were more than human events, and that God Himself was responsible? How could they know that Mary was actually innocent, a Virgin Mother, oxymoron of all oxymorons.
In spite of what seemed to be clear evidence against her, Mary was the faithful handmaiden of God. As it often turns out, those who seem most unrighteous in the world's eyes are actually the most righteous. The world makes up many rules to follow. They accuse us of being sinners because we break their man-made laws. We are accused of immorality and lovelessness. To all appearances, we are unclean sinners, worthy of (and often receiving) disgrace. But these lowly people are the saints of God and the temple of God, the inhabitation of the Holy One Himself.
For the saints also are more than merely human. We have received the works of God, and the Son of God. The impossible becomes possible in us. For what is inside us Christians is from the Holy Ghost, as Christ was in Mary. Every time this Scripture is read, the Angel of the Lord is bearing witness against all the cynics who believe only in natural, human events. The holy messenger strongly affirms the fact of the Virgin Birth. Christ is from the Holy Spirit, not from the sinfulness of Mary. If Christ were not born of the Virgin, then Christ would be merely human, and unable to save us.
Those in the "ELCA" and other liberals like them who deny the Virgin Birth have abandoned the historic Christian faith, rejecting the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. The Athanasian Creed does not use the word "virgin," although it is clearly implied by the words, "He is God, begotten before the ages of the substance of the Father, and He is man, born in the world of the substance of His mother." Therefore, the condemnation of that Creed also applies to those who reject the Virgin Birth: "This is the true Christian faith. Unless a man believes this firmly and faithfully, he cannot be saved."
Therefore, be most sternly and seriously warned: The Virgin Birth is a necessary and nonnegotiable article of the One True Faith. Today in our hearing, both the Mighty Prophet Isaiah and the Holy Evangelist Matthew have attested to the Virginity of Mary. If we will not believe the testimony of these saintly witnesses, then we should believe God Himself, whose Word it is. Or if not, and we refuse to believe that God Himself can take flesh in human history, then we ought to be honest and abandon the Christian faith altogether.
For a Jesus who is not the Virgin's Son is not worth worshiping, not worth following, not worth believing in. For such a false cannot save with His Blood, nor His suffering and death, nor by His Resurrection (not that He could ever rise, if He were not the Virgin's Son). But He is conceived in the Virgin's womb. He is the true Son of God, not merely a Man.
Therefore, what a great Mystery is here! That He who had no beginning as the Son of God, had a "genesis" - a beginning and a birth in a woman's womb! That the Godhead who fills all things should contain Himself in a one-celled organism! That He who never changes should grow and develop! That the Omnipotent should adopt our human weakness! No mind can fathom, no thoughts can grasp the fullness of the miracle of the Incarnation. God in our flesh is impossible to our human reason.
Yet it is true, since what is impossible for man is possible with God. This wondrous promise given through Isaiah in 734 B.C. is indeed fulfilled by God Himself - as Isaiah wrote, "The Lord will provide the sign." That is, not by human will or decision, nor even by a husband's participation, is the Seed of Woman brought forth. Salvation is by God alone, from start to finish.
In our present culture that looks for emotional quick-fixes, Christmas is demoted into a holiday of warm emotions. It is a pick-me-up season, when those who are low are made to feel good. Happiness, joy, love - but not the love of God, only the love of man. This is again the view of those who reduce history to merely human events. They pass by the awesome mystery of God becoming a Baby, and instead they wallow in the lowliness of emotions, not realizing that even the best of emotions are tainted by the ugliness of sin. Again, those who stick to what is merely human sometimes latch on to the idea of the comforting presence of Immanuel, "God with us," as if Jesus came in order to be our close friend who always hangs out with us. This is a way to disregard the fleshly presence of the incarnate Christ, and instead reduce Him to a disembodied spiritual presence to help us feel good. "God with us" means far more than that.
Jesus is God with us, in our human flesh, living a human life, and dying for our sins. These things are ultimately of eternal comfort, not just a brief emotional band-aid for daily life. Jesus Christ entered our flesh so that He could rescue us from everything that is merely human: from hollow emotionalism, from sinfulness, from death. Such things we also would run after, and sometimes do. But the Blood of Christ defends us even from these things in ourselves. So He is truly named "Jesus," which means "the Lord saves." This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua."
Yet Jesus does not receive this name as Joshua did, in a limited sense. Jesus is the Savior in the fullest sense. He has saved us from sin, He has bestowed eternal life and salvation from hell and satan. Although many names were specially given in the Bible to illustrate special meaning with regard to certain persons, "Jesus" is more appropriately named than any other figure in history. His Name is who He is. Like Him, His Name is above all the rest. He is highest, most holy, most gracious Savior.
All this happened according to God's preset plan and under His control. More than that, as we look back at the history of the world, particularly as recorded in Old Testament Scripture, Christ Himself is the proper fulfillment of everything, and the Key to the Bible's interpretation. He is the center and heart of the Old Testament as well as the New. He is what God intended all along.
This is especially important because the plan of God is for you. His working throughout Old and New Testaments was in preparation and fulfillment of your salvation. He prepared centuries and millennia before Bethlehem, back to Isaiah's prophecy seven centuries before, to King David, to the Israelites in Egypt, and even back to the Garden of Eden, when a Seed of Woman was promised some four thousand years before Christ was born. All this grand, perfect plan was for you - so that God could save you through the Blood of this perfect Baby, who would be sacrificed in your place.
So it is the same for you as it is in the pages of Scripture: Christ is the center and heart of your life. The proper interpretation of your life is Christ. Who you are is not seen in your external actions, but in Him. You do not have to make your lives right. You are already perfect in the eyes of God, the only Judge who matters. You life is not a series of merely human events. Your life is transformed by the work of God in Christ Jesus your Lord. He has done mighty things for you. Your life is a shining example of His glory. Your righteousness is perfect because of the work of God's Son, the Firstborn of the Virgin. Eternal life is the reward you receive for the work Jesus has done for you. Eternal happiness in God's presence is the wage He has earned by His incarnation, nativity, death, and resurrection.
So look upon the Baby, and view Him rightly: He is everything to you. He is your life and your salvation. Without Him, you are a miserable sinner only waiting for death. But because of what He has done, He is your crown and your great reward. Rest safely with Him, who will never abandon or fail you. In His Name, the only Name worthy of worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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