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.  — Matthew 1:18-23

 

[NOTE: The text below was the text as prepared.  The final preached version differs slightly.]

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to all because the favor of God rests upon the earth.

In the NAME of JESUS – Amen

The Christmas season is a time for family. It has been so from the very beginning. The family of David was gathered for a family reunion of sorts in Bethlehem. Joseph takes his betrothed wife – pregnant and about to give birth – to the city of David – because he stood as a man in the royal line of the house and lineage of David.

Of course these weren’t immigrants setting out to flee and take refuge from their homeland. This was a government forced family gathering as all commanded to go to their home town to register.

I say this to counter the political clap-trap that has arisen around this most sacred and holy circumstance. Even when Joseph does flee with his young family and goes down into Egypt, it is by direct command of God – not merely to flee oppression – but because this child was special – this child bore the name Jesus – He was God’s own Son destined to rescue and redeem the world. Joseph was his adoptive father – acting at God’s command – not for his own benefit.

In our text from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we see the importance and intention of family even as God reveals the outworking of His plan of salvation for the human race.

God has designed his creation so that A child, every child, must have a devoted father and a loving mother. We see this truth even when that Child is God in human flesh. Nothing else will do. Mary could not be permitted to raise Jesus as a single mother – not because of the social stigma – certainly the almighty God of heaven and earth – the God who could cause a virgin to conceive even though she had not known a man could find a way to deal with social stigma. – Only a great fool would think that Joseph is only in the picture because God was unable to minds and attitudes about single-motherhood before causing the virgin to give birth a Son. We are not such fools. We see clearly that God’s intention for the family is a real devoted father – a loving and nurturing mother.

This is why God created the structure of the family as a man and his wife and their children. God declares it when He says, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and he shall cleave to his wife” (singluar – one wife – not multiple wives – not serial adultery with one wife after another after another) And before I hear any objections – the mistakes and missteps of many Old Testament figures who desecrated marriage through taking multiple wives or using the socially accepted norms of the day and took concubines to defy God’s plan and purpose for marriage – the Scripture is of one voice about God’s intention for the family. It is one man, one woman, united together – and the two become one flesh – united together. And, if not for the corruption of creation by sin, this union would be fruitful and they would multiply – and husband and wife would remain together until God, Himself, parts them through death.
Within this union, there is also an order and a structure created by God. Husbands are to LOVE their wives – even as Christ Jesus loves His bride the Church. Jesus shed His own blood, sweat and tears – He willingly permitted Himself to be hoisted upon a cross and have nails pierce his hands and his feet – Jesus gave himself over to death – so that his bride may be given life.

This is the work that God gives a man to do. This is man’s work – and because of sin it is made all the harder. Now it is by the sweat of his brow He scrapes together food – and in the home, rather than joy and comfort, he finds the kind of rebellion and recalcitrance that God finds among humanity. And yet, a man is still called to love and cherish his bride.

Just as a God who, receives scorn and hatred from his creation and doesn’t seek to rescue and redeem what He created is not a God of love and mercy and grace, a man who backs out or tries to shirk his duty as a husband – loving and caring for his wife – even if it means his own death – is no real man. He is a hollow shell of what God created him to be.

And a real woman responds to such love and commitment. And as Christ died to give life to His bride the church, Christ’s bride owes to her husband trust, and even submission and obedience. NOT out of fear – NOT EVEN out of divine obligation – even though the command exists.

Rather a real woman and a proper bride recognizes the sacrifice of her husband for her wellbeing and for the wellbeing of her children and willingly submits to him because she is confident and certain that, even when she does not see or understand, he always has her best interests in mind.

It is in the context of THIS relationship that God desires that Children will be raised. That they would see and know and understand the love of God who sacrifices everything as they look at their father – and they see and know the proper response that we ought to have toward the God who is the father of us all.

What a beautiful way that God has created to teach each generation to receive all things from God and serve and submit to Him because they know His love and His care.

Of course, to the world, husband and wife present as a single – unified whole. Neither he nor she is greater or lesser than the other in the sight of outsiders. Of coures, privately and between the two of them, there does need to be someone who acts as the final decision maker in case agreement cannot be reached. But if families were able to live and husbands and wives were able to act in the way God intends, such needs would be very few and very far between.

In our text, Mary and Joseph are presented as the model family. They show us this sacrificial love and this willing submission and obedience. They show us what a real man and husband is and they picture for us a real woman and wife.

St. Matthew brings this into sharp focus by telling us, “Now, the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” It took place in a family. He then begins to describe How God has specially acted in the lives of this faithful husband and this faith-filled wife for a particular purpose – to raise up God’s own son.

But we also see in this this passage, the effects of sin and brokenness in the world. In the days when Jesus was born, the social contract called betrothal was just as binding as God’s institution of marriage itself. During the betrothal, husband and wife would prepare themselves for their public uniting together – and in the mean time, would continue to live apart. Because they were not yet joined in marriage, they would not come together physically until after the public ceremony.

Joseph, being a virtuous and honest man – a real man – would absolutely refuse to violate Mary and would avoid every situation that would lead him into that temptation.

This is how, when the Angel appeared to Mary, She knew with certainty that there was no human way possible that she could conceive and bare a son – because she was a virgin. It is also what caused Joseph such difficulty. He knew with absolute certainty that the child in Mary’s womb was not his.

Therefore, Joseph, he is shocked and scandalized when his bride, Mary, is found to be pregnant. Being a virtuous, honest and a true man, Joseph reveals to us what it means for a husband to love his wife.

Rather than bring her up on charges – submit her to publich shame – put her to a public trial – and risk her being found guilty and put to death, Joseph resolves to divorce her quietly. He doesn’t post her misdeeds on facebook. He doesn’t try to gather the family to stone her with words and seek to destroy her relationships and degrade her before the world. In his mind, her misdeeds will reveal themselves in due time. He tries to cover over her sin – to hide it from others as long as possible.

Now, when Moses handed down the law to the nation of Israel, He gave permission for a man to write a letter of divorce and send away his bride. This was permitted because of the hardness of the sin-filled human heart. It was a concession – done so that the woman would be spared a fate far worse than public humiliation and degredation.

All the same, the man was declaring that the death of one of them. If there was a cause – for instance, if she had committed adultery, she would by that act be declaring that he was dead to her. And so, the letters agreed with that pronouncement. But with no cause – he was essentially signing her death warrant. Though she would go on living – he condemned her to a fate almost as equivalent to death. The intention here was, because of the hardness of the human heart – to force the two to stay together may result in bloodshed and death of the hated spouse.

Just as Jesus proclaims that the lustful look is in reality no different from the physical act of adultery, He also reveals that persistent anger and a lack of forgiveness in the heart is equivalent to murder.

So, in truth, in the case of two Christians, there is no separation for “irreconcilable differences,” there can be no divorce without cause.

There is only separation by death – whether the trajedy of real death of one spouse – or by murderous thoughts and a lack of forgiveness to avoid the heart overflowing as real and true murder.

And so, we see the struggle of Joseph. In his mind, Mary had counted him dead. She had transgressed their commitment.

But Joseph was a real man, not a pansy. Even though he believed that, by her actions, Mary considered him dead, Joseph would continue to love her. He would give up yet more. Losing some of his reputation among his neighbors for choosing the wrong sort of girl, he would willingly carry what he believed was the burden of Mary’s sin upon his own shoulders.

This is a real man. This is a man who knows what it is like to be the head of a family. This is a man who realizes that the buck stops with him – that whatever happens in his household – even when he has never received the help and benefits of marriage and family is HIS responsibility and HIS alone to deal with it. And so Joseph steps up and resolves in His mind to love and care for Mary because he has pledged and promised himself to do so.

And as we look around at the state of our families in the world today. We can certainly see the real need for this Child that Mary carries in her womb.

The destruction of the family – the emasculation and pansifying of men and considering them as disposable – the wicked and vile treatment of some men treating women as chattle and toys. These are mere symptoms of the real problem that plagues our world. The sinful heart of man overflows each and every day in ways that are too innumerable to mention. We can find such sin in our own heart – sin which leads us to seek to raise ourselves up over others or treat them in horrific ways. As a race, we human beings desire to cast off and put aside everything that God has declared good so that we can pursue whatever pleasure we desire in this life. And we do so, because God intervening in our lives and in our world, we cannot see or know that God, indeed, remains on His throne ruling and reigning for our eternal good and welfare.

And it is because we reject this love and mercy of God that we continue to sit in darkness and the shadow of death. We look at the world not knowing or understanding the reality of things. Believing that all that happens to us is intended to hurt us and harm us and bring us to ruin we wonder, “If there is a God, why doesn’t he do something about this?” and we feel we must take things into our own hands.

We are like Joseph in the dark hours of the night as he considered what he would do about the fact that his beloved wife was pregnant with a child that was not his own.

But the divine message of Christmas is the same divine message that reached the ears of Joseph. “Do not fear,” says the Angel. It is the message that needs to reach our ears as well. The explains reality to Joseph so that He knows and understands that God HAS decisively intervened – God DOES remain in control – that there is no reason for Joseph to break up and destroy his family because, “that which is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus,” And God has given this child this name for a very particular and specific purpose – -HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS”

The promise given to King Ahaz has been fulfilled. A virgin has conceived – an impossible feat – something that can not happen unless God acts in human history to do something outside the paramaters of nature. And this virgin has given birth to a Son. God has knit this specific family together – acting in miraculous ways – so that this child would be wrapped in swaddling clothes, lay in a manger, and have a real, true man for a father, and a real true, pious woman as a mother.

This is God’s sign to us that God has worked for OUR salvation as well – not just giving us the promise of forgiveness – but promising to work in our lives in this world – to restore and re-establish what has been corrupted by sin. To re-establish families and communities upon the sure foundation of His Word and promises.

Because of this child born in the manger, there is no need for us to live in sin any longer. He has come to rescue and save us, so that we can receive the Holy Spirit and be brought out of darkness into the light. He has come to give us strength to say no to selfishness, and instead pour ourselves out in true love toward others – Husbands TRULY loving their wives as Christ loved the Church – not only being born with the right plumbing, but having the true heart which God gives to true men so that they willingly suffer all and if necessary allow themselves to be put to death in order to care for those whom God has given into their care.

Likewise, Mary shows the true heart and actions of a real woman. Submitting to God in the way we see Jesus’ bride, the church, is to submit to Him.

Even as Jesus is God almighty – seated in glory with His father at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus does not show his strength, his power, or his might in the world. He does not come to destroy or judge the world for sin. Instead, He bares the punishment we deserve for our sins.

This is why the Church honors and obeys Him. It is why we submit to his teachings and His Word. He has shown his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, He died for us in order to raise us up to live through Him.

And likewise, THIS is how God created us to love one another – not only in our families – but in our communities and in the world around us. Willingly taking it upon ourselves to remedy and make up for the hurtful and harmful choices of others. Being the first to reconcile with others – rather than holding a grudge. Realizing that the anger and bitterness, the vitriol and spite that others hurl against us is because of the hardness of their heart. And until their heart is warmed by the loving touch of Jesus, they can never know God’s love and mercy for them and it will never flow through them to others.

And this is what the Christchild of Bethlehem comes to do – to change our hearts and minds renewing and restoring within us His image. Pouring into our hearts love and kindness by the power of His Word and His Holy Spirit. This is the love love that came into our world at the first – the love of God – handed over to us in a babe in swaddling cloths – laid in a manger.

Proclaim the Savior’s birth:
To God on High be Glory. And peace to all the earth.

In the NAME of JESUS. AMEN.