“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her 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). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
This is how the Holy Spirit summarized it through Isaiah the prophet: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9) That’s it…
This is why we can’t understand our God and His ways and His thoughts unless He Himself reveals them, as He indeed does it in the Scriptures. The truth is that on our own we can’t know the answers to the most important questions that there are.
Who is God? What is His attitude towards us? Who are we? Why are we here, for what purpose? Where are we heading? And so on. This is why we should be jumping up and down out of joy and excitement every time when we have the opportunity to hear from our God, eager to study His revelation, to learn His thoughts and His ways. That should be fitting response from every Christian.
But is it? Our today’s Gospel reading offers us one such opportunity. We heard how Matthew has recorded the story of Jesus’ birth. How do you read it? How do you see in it? How do we as human beings see this event?
The first chapter of the Gospel according Matthew, or we can say of the whole New Testament begins rather strangely. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…”
And off it goes … listing forty-two generations. And then we get to the event of Jesus’ birth which we heard today. I assume you all love to read who was the father of who. Isn’t that exciting? And then we get to this strange event.
“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Just one sentence. Not much explanation is given to us about this rather extra ordinary event.
Just “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Who was found with a child? A young Jewish girl, engaged with an older man Joseph, they lived in a little-known town of Nazareth, in Galilee, somewhere in the outskirts of the great Roman empire.
How did she get the child? O, yes, from the Holy Spirit… from the Holy Spirit. Sure, that must be the first thought that crossed Joseph’s mind. “O, perhaps she is pregnant from the Holy Spirit!” That’s what people usually think, when someone gets pregnant and we don’t know who the father is.
But then, an angel of the Lord was sent to Joseph to explain what was going on. In a dream… How would that be? What sort of dream would that be? What sort of vision, or revelation? How certain? How convincing?
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her 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.”
Whatever the angel did or say, however he did or say it, it obviously worked. Joseph took Mary as his wife and when the child was born, he called him as the angel had commanded – Jesus. A few would argue that this whole thing isn’t extremely strange and unusual for our ears.
But God’s ways are not our ways… He sees things differently. And once we are ready to listen to Him, He gladly opens the Scripture for us. He reveals to us His ways, He reveals to us His thoughts, and what a wonderful revelation it is, how beautiful and comforting reality suddenly comes alive before our eyes.
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the son of Abraham, the son of David. How much is summarized in these few words.
The whole history of mankind up to the moment of Jesus birth. When our first parents turned away from the true God, the Son of God Himself came looking for them and proclaimed to them the first Gospel promise.
That the offspring of woman, meaning, someone without a human father, someone mysteriously conceived and born, will crush the ancient serpent’s head, will break the curse, and will restore the goodness of God’s creation. Our God knew it back then what He was going to do, and when He was going to do.
His ways are not our ways. Our plans may extent to the next week, or perhaps year, or may be a bit longer. And even then, we never know how it will go. It’s not up to us, too many things are outside of our control. It is different with the Triune God.
From the beginning, even before the beginning He knew what He will do, when and how He will do it. He knew who will be His beloved and chosen in Christ, who will receive His inheritance in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Choosing and calling of Abraham was just one more step towards the fulfillment of God’s plan. Almost incomprehensively long step for us, but not for our God. Then the Son of David. One more step for our God. 1000 more years later.
The famous king David received the promise that his son will receive the kingdom that will last forever. But not right away, not Solomon, but someone born in the house of David, again – 1000 years later. Thousand years, these are just numbers for us, we can’t actually fully picture how long a time it is.
When we read in Matthew chapter 1 about Abraham, about David, when we read the long genealogies, they may seem irrelevant, for we just can’t perceive the magnitude of God’s work, of His ways. But they were relevant for our God.
All this time He was patiently working towards the fulfilment of His plan of salvation, having also you and your eternal future on His mind. Every person was important, for they gave birth and raised the next generation and the next and the next… until the time came for the special One to be born, the offspring of woman.
Who will be this special One? We have two names given to us, and they explain us this greatest of mysteries. These two names explain for us who this special person will be, and what He will do, what the purpose of His birth and life will be.
That’s what the Holy Scripture provide for us, – breathtaking insights into God’s ways and thoughts. First name was revealed through Isaiah the prophet seven centuries before Jesus’ birth: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”
What does Immanuel mean? It means – God with us. This special One, who will be born of woman, who will be the son of Abraham, and the Son of David, will be no one else but… yes, God Himself. God Himself will be born as one of us.
Sure, seen through human eyes, the whole birth of Jesus seems strange at best. Strang choice of time. Strange choice of place. Strange choice of the fateful woman. All of that seems strange, especially because there was not outward glory to this divine event, that stands in the very centre of time. Seen from our human perspective it was almost impossibly ordinary.
Not so from God’s perspective. What was promised in the beginning, had come to its fulfilment. God was with us. The Word had become flesh. Immanuel. He had come to fulfill the ancient promise given to our first parents.
And what will He do? What is the purpose of His life? The second name gives us the answer. Jesus … is the answer. What does Jesus mean? In ancient Hebrew it means – Yahweh saves. God Yahweh saves.
As the angel of the Lord foretold: “He [this child] will save His people from their sins.” And this prophesy is such a beauty. What does it mean that He will save us from our sins? Does it mean that all our sins will be forgiven?
Yes, sure, it certainly means that because of what Jesus did, God now offers you forgiveness of all your sins. Does it mean that Jesus will take away our guilt and will give us good conscience? Yes, most certainly so.
Jesus invites us to this wonderful exchange, He takes our sins and guilt and shame, and in exchange He offers to us reconciliation with the Father and good conscience. Now we can look forward to the Last Day without fear, with peace and joyful longing.
Does it also mean that sin will have no power over us? Yes, certainly so. Once we belong to Jesus, once He is our Lord, sin will have no power over us. We will be able to stand firm in the power of the Holy Spirit, free to live our lives as God’s chosen and beloved people.
But even that is not all yet. Think bigger! Think like the Creator! “He will save His people from sin”. Meaning, God Yahweh come in human flesh will destroy sin, He will destroy also the wages of sin, that is death.
He will cleanse and purify His entire creation from anything sinful, He will restore the goodness of His creation, and then there will be no more sin, nor pain, no more death, nor morning. All of that will be gone. Forever.
We often worry about today and tomorrow. Because we don’t see the big picture. We don’t see this reality as our God sees it. But when we are willing to listen to Him speaking to us, when we are ready to learn His ways and His thoughts, what a great comfort His revelation brings to us.
This is how our today’s reading helps us as well. It gives us these two names that our God has revealed for us. And these two names open for us the Father’s heart, and help to understand His attitude towards us, and what He has prepared for us.
Our God has come to us, so that He could take you to Himself. These two names assure us that everything is in our Father’s hands. That the whole history of mankind is unmistakably heading towards the fulfilment of our God’s plan for us. That He Himself, – Immanuel is with us, and the He Himself, – Jesus, will save us. His ways are not like ours, that’s for sure, and His thoughts are not like ours, as we can see, but these two names reveal to us something beautiful.
Whatever high His ways and whatever high His thoughts are, but as we can see it now, – they are about us. They are about you.