As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!
Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to call him our Pastor, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew.
The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).
Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.
— Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)
The Word of God for the people of God.
Sometimes what you see or experience is so great, beyond description, beyond expectation, that one name simply won’t do. The baby gets two names. The first is “Jesus” – the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua which means “Jehova is salvation.” Another way of putting it is that Jesus means “The Lord saves.” Or you might even say that the angel commands Joseph to name the baby “Savior” because “He will save!” The New Revised Standard Version puts it, that Joseph being a “righteous man” which can also be translated as a “just” man had planned to dismiss her (Mary) quietly. “But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (emphasis mine).
The angel is direct. One, do not be afraid. This is the normal conversation starter between heavenly beings and mortals. We need this instruction daily. Joseph had reason to be afraid. While the Law of Moses required capital punishment in cases like these (Deuteronomy 22:23-27), by this time in Jewish history, the penalty was rarely death. Rather, it would be a severe, humiliating, public penalty. In Joseph’s circles, to be described as “righteous” meant that one did the right thing at the right time and was a follower of every detail of God’s law. Yet, the Spirit is at work with “just” Joseph so that he is already going beyond the letter of the law and acting out of love and mercy on Mary’s behalf.
The second command from the heavenly messenger is that it is Joseph’s responsibility to name the baby. “You shall name the child, accepting him as your own and adopting him into the Davidic line as an authentic ‘son of David.’” Joseph names him Jesus. This places Jesus in line with the prophecy. Remember that this is not something that by law Joseph would have to do. The voice of God through the angel leads Joseph to name the baby Jesus. This naming reflects the great story line of Moses and Joshua where they save God’s people from Egypt and guided them into the promised land through the Red Sea and the Jordan River.
Jesus too will save HIS people from their sins. But who are Jesus’ people? One might think that it is the Jewish people, but as the plot develops in the gospels, Jesus’ people are ALL people. “For God so love the world (kosmos)” moving beyond any border, culture, race, or time! This turns out to be a point of great conflict that will ultimately lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus’ life was one of inclusion with the poor, with a Samaritan woman, with prostitutes, with tax-collectors, with lepers, and with as many other categories as the religious leaders of the time decided were “on the outs with God.” Simply put, they would say, “he eats with sinners.” When the rest of the religious leaders of the time were running from the hurting and broken of the world so as not be made unclean, Jesus was running to them. He washed them and made them clean.
Ironically, the mother of our Lord and Savior certainly would have been thought of in the category of “sinner” by the religious folks of her time. Mary was an unwed pregnant teenager who in her culture would also be an adulterer due to her status as betrothed. Interestingly, Matthew describes Joseph becoming aware of Mary’s pregnancy, yet not knowing of its divine source. This “in between time” of seeing trouble, but not yet seeing divine action, presence, or proclamation represents the hardest times of life.
Perhaps this is why Jesus also receives a symbolic name, “Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Never again do we need to wonder, “Where is God in this?” The answer is in every place, in every time of trouble, even when we can’t see it, even when we don’t feel it, and even when we forget it; the truth of Jesus remains that he is “Emmanuel – God with us!” In our feast days of celebration, at the weddings where water turns to wine, at the graves of those we love like Lazarus, in the wilderness, in the garden, when we are on trial, betrayed, denied, beaten, whipped, bruised, alone; we find that we are never alone because everywhere, beyond the end of time, we have received the gift of Emmanuel – God with us that neither life nor death nor anything on the earth, above the earth, or beneath the earth can take away. I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what the church claims this Christmas Eve. Tonight, light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and cannot overcome it. Tonight, God is with us. Let the angels sing, the saints rejoice, the demons shudder, for the Lord of Life is alive and well. Jesus “God saves” is with us!