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ADVENT: Embrace Immanuel     Matthew 1:18-25    Pastor Larry Boatright   (1st Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content}       I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, my parents worked in a factory about a half hour away from where we lived, and I was home alone for most of the day.  We didn’t have cable or satellite or anything like that, and I didn’t have a Nintendo, so the only thing to watch on TV during the day were the three channels our antenna would pick up.  We had this antenna on top of the house, and you had a DIAL inside you’d TURN in order to turn the antenna the right way to get the best signal. It was bananas.  Anyway, there were three things on during the day during those days:  Game shows.  Talk shows. And finally, soap operas.  And I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I became addicted to talk shows and soap operas.  One thing was similar, they always left on a cliffhanger, whether to cut to a commercial or to end the show.  I watched Phil Donahue, Oprah, and Maury Povich.  And I watched “General Hospital” and “All My Children.”  I mean, I got into them and couldn’t wait for them each day.  Right before the commercial, whether it was a talk show or a soap opera, some BIG NEWS got dropped on someone.  On a soap opera, it would often be a woman telling a man, “I’m pregnant,” and it either was or wasn’t his baby.  And then, the camera would go tight on the person who received this hard news and hold for like 15 seconds.  They would contort their face every which way, and dramatic music played to illustrate that they were wrestling with the news.  A few years ago, my wife and I got addicted to the show “24.”   At some point, I realized, “This is just a night time soap opera!”.  It sounds kind of funny, but most of us have had moments in our lives where we receive unexpected news, or we are going in a particular direction and something happens to redirect our path.  Thank goodness those moments aren’t recorded for posterity, at least for most of us!

We’re in the fourth and final week of Advent, that time in the Church calendar BEFORE Christmas where the church lives in the tension between the resurrection of Jesus and His return.  The first two weeks were somewhat heavy passages.  Then last week, Dan shifted gears a little and started preparing our hearts for the coming of the Messiah.  And now we find ourselves two days away from Christmas Eve, which, by the way, I’m really excited about, so I hope you’ll invite your friends and family to come!  So, this fourth Sunday of Advent, we’re turning the page in our Advent journey to go back and look behind the scenes of Jesus’ impending incarnation, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.  If you have your Bible with you, or you can bring it up on your phone, I’d love to invite you to turn to Matthew chapter 1.  We’re going to be looking at verses 18-25.

In the first seventeen verses of Matthew 1, we see the genealogy of Jesus; his ancestry, if you will.  Unlike the Lukan account that shows his lineage through Mary, this account traces the descendants of Abraham and David, to show Jesus to be in the line of the Davidic King.  In that day, though we know Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s blood-born child, he would legally have been Joseph’s son, so in multiple ways, Jesus was the long-awaited Davidic King.  So imagine, to first-century hearers, hearing about his lineage and then turning the page and hearing this account of Mary becoming pregnant… WASN’T what they would have expected!  In this account, it’s not the warm and fuzzy “baby in a manager” telling of the incarnation.  No, it reads a little bit like a soap opera, with unexpected news, a decision to make, an angelic visit, a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, and more.  Sounds like “Lord of the Rings,” or “Game of Thrones,” or “Harry Potter” or something like that.  Yet, as we heard just a moment ago, it’s the account of Joseph contending with the fact that Mary, the woman he is engaged to, is pregnant  and, just like in a soap opera, it’s. Not. His. Baby.  Dun Dun Dun.  Talk about some crazy family of origin stuff!

I think we are going to see today that there are often interruptions to our lives, but that God has been orchestrating things all along—rooted in His love—and that if we will look for Messiah, learn to trust Him, that He will work things out for good.  Let’s dive in. I’ll walk us through the text, and point out some observations along the way.  18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

To really grasp what is going on here, we have to go back a little bit into ancient near-eastern culture.  We see that Mary and Joseph were “pledged to be married.”  What does that mean, exactly?  It’s quite a bit different than engagement in our day and time.  In those days, quite often this kind of marriage was arranged between their parents.  Mary was probably between 12 and 16 years of age, and Joseph was probably between 18 and 20 years of age.  The idea of engagement back then had two parts:  The engagement arrangement itself, and then the Marriage.  The engagement was where they were officially committed, but in our culture, if an engagement is ended, we say they “called off the engagement.”   In those days, calling off the engagement would be considered a divorce.  In fact, if either partner in the engagement passed away during the engagement, the other partner would be considered a widow or a widower.   Needless to say, they took being ‘pledged to be married’ almost as if they WERE married.  Engagement lasted about a year, and during that time, especially in Galilee, premarital privacy between the couple was frowned upon, so they likely hadn’t spent much time together at this point.  Imagine being forced to become engaged to someone you may not know all that well, and not really being allowed to spend quality time with them until you were married.

So Joseph found himself in a pretty weird situation.  The woman he was pledged to marry—the GIRL, really—became pregnant.  Through the Holy Spirit.  What we don’t have is a record of their conversation.  Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall?   “Hey, Mary, I notice you’re having a bit of a bump on your belly. I thought you were on KETO.  What’s going on?”   Mary says, “Oh, what, this?”  She looks down and says, “Funny story…” She proceeds to tell him, “Yes, I’m with child, but it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby.”  If we’re honest and try to put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes, it would be natural to be skeptical.  I mean, yeah right, it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby.  That sounds like a Maury Povich episode—“Holy Spirit, you ARE the father.  We’ve got the results.”

It would be natural to assume that, since they hadn’t been together, that she had been unfaithful.  And this presented a real problem for Joseph, because he followed God.  Joseph was faithful to the law and the law was clear.  In a case of infidelity, he could divorce her or even worse, she could be sentenced to death by stoning.  This wasn’t real common this time in history, but it was still possible.  What do you do when you’re trying to do the right thing, when you’re trying to walk the right path, and a curveball gets thrown in your face?  Look at verse 19 — Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was doing his best to follow the law; he was a righteous man.  And he knew what the law said.  He really only had two options here. (1) Go public with it. Blast it on Facebook, send out emails, make a video, make it a really big deal, and publicly shame her, and explain the consequences of what he thought was her sin. (2) Divorce her quietly. Do it privately with a couple of witnesses, and let the memory of the betrothal fade into obscurity.  We have the benefit of hindsight here, so we know what happened, and we see that Joseph was a great guy.  But imagine how he must have felt at this time.  He was in this season of waiting.  He was excited, and I’d dare say, in love with this girl who soon would be his wife, and a bombshell got dropped on him.  His dreams came crashing down.  Starting a family.  Becoming a father.  All of his plans laid out in his mind.  And then it all got interrupted.

Maybe you’ve felt that way—you were waiting on something special, something you were looking forward to.  Maybe you were looking forward to a dream to come true you’ve dreamed about for years.  Several years ago, my cousin Melissa and her husband built a brand new house. They were SO excited about it. They literally were days away from moving in.  One of the last touches was for the contractors to stain the custom cabinets, wait  for them to dry and fumes dissipate and then they could move it. They cabinets were finished and beautiful and they were waiting.  Later that night, Melissa received a call from a neighbor that their house was on fire.  Yes, their BRAND NEW HOUSE.  She and her husband stood outside as they watched this brand new house burn to the ground.  Apparently, the rags the contractors used to stain the cabinets were put into buckets at the end of the day, and in the hot Oklahoma summer they combusted in those buckets, caught the cabinets on fire, and burned the house down.  A dream was gone.

I think we’ve all experienced those moments of waiting for something good, and experiencing massive loss and disappointment along the way.  Remember, Joseph was human, so he no doubt had to deal with a swirl of human emotions, and a desire to honor God and to follow the law.  But I also think we see a clear picture that the character of God was being modeled right from Joseph.  Instead of publicly shaming her, even though he likely felt shame, he decided to honor her and protect her, and extend mercy towards her.  So we see an important lesson about who God is by how he modeled this.  God’s faithfulness and his mercy are always on display.  Life might be messy and we might not see it.  Your marriage or relationships might be strained.  Your business might be struggling or work might not be going well.  I can promise you that in the midst of the fog of all of those things, God’s faithfulness and his mercy are always on display.  I think that’s really, really good news! Think about a time when you deserved the opposite of mercy, but God gave it to you and protected you along the way.

I think we see something beautiful….that Joseph considered Mary and decided to honor her, even though it must have been really hard.  But, as God has a tendency to do when we think we have our perfect plan crafted, God showed up in a pretty amazing way.  Verse 20 — But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

What did angels usually say when they met humans in Scripture?  Do not be “afraid.” Afraid of what? Of THEM!  I mean, how crazy would it be for an angelic being to appear? How could you not be afraid?  But this angel said something different.  He said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” meaning, “Don’t be afraid to go through the marriage and trust that what she said was true.”  Don’t be afraid to listen to what she said, to be obedient to God, even though it didn’t make sense.  He affirmed what she said, this child is from the Holy Spirit,  meaning, “This interruption is a God-interruption, so don’t be afraid to let your plans shift.” That’s tough for most of us.  We like to control things and order things to go a certain way, don’t we? I once performed a wedding where the bride literally sat in a limo with a walkie-talkie and barked orders throughout the majority of the wedding.  That’s a great example of someone who likes to control things.

But in those seasons of waiting for God to show up sometimes He provides a divine interruption, and it inevitably changes the game and requires us to trust Him.  Control and trust aren’t always equal.  Listen to the words of Proverbs 16:9 — A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.  How many times have you made a plan that sounds right and God redirects it for some reason?  Just like us, Joseph plotted his course and he had it all worked out.  Beautiful fiancé, beautiful future.  But then….beautiful fiancé who is pregnant, with God’s baby.  I imagine him going,  “How am I going to explain this to my friends?”  God shifted those plans, but He didn’t leave him in the dust. He met with Joseph via an angel and directed his steps and gave them divine purpose.

This child, this unseen but present child, name him Jesus.  Jesus was a pretty common name in the first century, by the way.  As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the people had been living under Roman oppression for quite some time and the nation was longing for God’s intervention.  Jesus was the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Joshua, or YAHWEH, and it literally means, “God saves”.  So Joseph is instructed to name his boy (who would legally be his, even though Jesus isn’t biologically his) a name that reflects the hope of the time—God saves—but this time, it’s God-ordained.  How powerful is it to have God give the name of the child and to know God was going to use this child to save the people from their sins!  See, we can rest assured that when those divine interruptions happen, those divine redirections, even when the intention behind what we set out to do was good, we can rest assured that God’s redirection or interruption is always for His glory, for His good purpose, even when we can’t see it at the time.

Now Matthew sort of pauses the story and looks right at the camera to give his Jewish audience a little perspective into what would no doubt have been a pretty incredulous story.  Look at verse 22:.  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  This comes from the seventh chapter of the book of Isaiah, that Old Testament prophet.  Isaiah shared many things that were foretelling of this coming messiah, the savior, the eventual Davidic king.  But in the seventh chapter, the Lord was talking to Ahaz about two kings who had come to stand up against him. 
He basically said that a sign that God was about to move was that a young woman would conceive and give birth to the son.   We don’t know if it was Isaiah’s wife, or Ahaz’s wife, or who,  but that by the time this child was born and grew old enough to know the difference between right and wrong— about three years from the time he said it—the oppressive northern Kingdom would be destroyed.  God saves.  So it had a now and not yet aspect to what he said.  He said that would happen at that time, but he also was foreshadowing a day when a virgin would conceive a child, and they would call him Immanuel.

Now, we don’t see a record in the New Testament of anyone calling Jesus ‘Immanuel.’  The literal meaning of Immanuel is ‘God with us.’   As we’ll look at together on Christmas Eve, John 1 shows us that Jesus literally was the fulfillment of God with us, Immanuel.  So it’s like Matthew is pulling his audience aside and saying, “Listen, this is credible.  This story is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, whom I know you have respect for.”  Matthew’s writing to a Jewish audience and telling them, “Hey, this thing that you’ve been longing for?  I’m writing about it here.  It happened.”

So, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we see something powerful.  This soon-to-be-born baby has two names ascribed to him in this passage:  Jesus = God saves. This is about what God does, He saves.  The second name is Immanuel = God with us. This is about who God is, He is present with us.  He saves us and He is present with us.  For a hurting, oppressed people who felt forgotten, what good news this must have been.  Not only will God SAVE you, but He will be WITH you.  And for all of us, as a church that joins with millions of others in reading this same passage today as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, it’s good news for us.  GOD SAVES US and GOD IS WITH US.  Amen!

We all need the reminder that when we are waiting or moving forward with our plans and God interrupts, you need to remember it’s God’s very nature to save.  He gave his son the name Jesus, which means God saves.  God is the one that is responsible to guide you, to guard you, to protect you, as you move forward on your journey.  The second thing I want you to hear loud and clear is that it’s God’s nature to be WITH you. His presence is with you. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, through the good times and the bad.  Both of those things—God saves and God is with us—is really, really good news!  That is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, finally, Joseph had been deliberating what to do, and an angel came to him in a dream to tell him not to be afraid, to wholeheartedly follow God, and to wait on His perfect plan.  Before we go on, you might think this sounds bananas, like God could really speak to someone through a dream. Our former lead pastor had a dream before he came here that he drove up to a church in a strip mall that had tons of fake plants.  When he came here to interview, he pulled up and guess what he found?  FAKE PLANTS!!  A little over a year ago, a friend of mine passed away suddenly.  One night I had a dream that he came to me and asked me to tell his wife not to forget to let his old buddy Paul that he had passed away.  I waited two days before calling her to tell her, because I didn’t want to add to her grief, and I didn’t want to sound like a crazy person.  But I finally did. She didn’t know the name, but said she’d think on it.  A couple of days later, she called me all excited and realized who I was talking about.  It was an old army friend of his who was traveling around the world.  She got in touch with him to let him know Tim had passed.  Crazy, huh?  I believe the Holy Spirit somehow allowed me to have that dream.  The Bible has many stories of God using dreams to speak to people.  Sometimes God speaks to us in the most unexpected of ways.  Sometimes as we are waiting, we miss what God is doing right in front of us because we are expecting something different, but it doesn’t mean God didn’t show up.  Sometimes it’s a dream, sometimes it’s through the Scriptures, sometimes it’s through the wise words of a godly friend.  God with us means God is ALWAYS speaking, but sometimes in completely unexpected ways.   Listen, a whole nation missed the birth of the Messiah and the reality of God with them, because they were looking for a king who would overthrow Rome.

Let’s see what happened when Joseph woke up.  Verse 24—When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  So Joseph had a plan, it was interrupted, an angel met with him and redirected him.  And then we see that Joseph did exactly what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and, out of love,  took Mary home as his wife.  But he didn’t sleep with her until she gave birth to Jesus.  In the ancient near east, it was frowned upon to have sexual relations while a woman was pregnant.  So even after all of this, even after the assurance that this was all from the Holy Spirit, Joseph went above and beyond to honor Mary, which again, I think is a picture of the grace, mercy, and love of God towards all of us as well.

So I want to leave us with three observations from this text.  (1) God saves us and God is with us.  Even if life is going really well for you right now, think on those words.  That’s why we follow Jesus, that is the good news, the heart of the gospel.  God saves and God is with us.  (2) God’s redirection is always for the best. It might not feel like it right now.  It might feel scary. I don’t know why Jesus hasn’t returned yet.  I wish I could tell you.  But I can tell you that his plan is perfect.  (3)  Joseph shows us how to be faithful to the Scriptures but filled with grace and mercy.  Joseph was a man of the book, but he also had the heart of Jesus, the heart of God, and he treated her with dignity, respect, and mercy, and that is the way God treats all of us too.

So as we get ready to turn the page into Christmas, we get to see some behind the scenes of Joseph trying to do the right thing and then hearing from God along the way.  We also get to see that the birth of Jesus was messy.   I want to encourage all of us to look expectantly towards this Jesus we proclaim, to wait for Him, to allow Him to redirect us as we go in our journey, and to trust that He HAS and WILL do great things for us, in us, and through us.  Maybe for you, you need to embrace that GOD SAVES and GOD IS WITH YOU.  Maybe you need to accept God’s redirection and stop resisting.  Maybe you need to show grace and mercy to someone you’ve been only expressing truth to.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, I am thrilled that in two days we get to make much of your name.  I’m so thrilled, too, that in the waiting You are with us, that you save.  Lord, for those today, who just need to hear from you, would you speak to them clearly.  Lord, would you help us to embrace that you save and that you’re with us, to experience you fully in this season.  Lord, for those who are struggling to be redirected, would you help us to just stop resisting and trying to control everything.  Lord, for those of us who are really keen on sharing truth, but not mercy and grace, would you redirect us to let the fruit of the Spirit flow in and through us.  We pray for your mercy, your grace, and your truth.  We’re excited to worship you, great, great King.  We ask this in the strong powerful name of Jesus and together this church said….Amen.