The theme this week is the light of love comes and dwells among us.
The call to worship Psalm presents a petition for help with a reference to Joseph, anticipating the need of salvation that Jesus comes to provide.
- Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah recounts the sign of a young woman who will give birth to a son named Immanuel.
- Isaiah 7:10-16
The Gospel reading from Matthew quotes the sign given in our Isaiah reading and tells the story of Joseph’s marriage to Mary who is pregnant with Jesus.
- Matthew 1:18-25
The epistolary text comes from the opening of Romans with its Christological confession that relates the coming of Christ in the context of God’s saving activity in history.
- Romans 1:1-7
SPEAKING OF LIFE
- Title: The Might and Light of a Saving Love
- Presenter: Greg Williams, President of GCI
A Birth of Light & Love
Matthew 1:18-23, 24-25
Today is Advent 4, the last Sunday of Advent before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus on Christmas. Advent 4 carries the theme of love which can be seen as the culmination of what we learn about God throughout this season. When the Father sends his own Son to us, we are given a revelation of who God is in his inner being. We are given to know the Father in the same way the Son knows the Father. And what we see is what the Apostle John later records in 1 John 4:8 — “God is Love.” It’s not that God is simply loving as if love is some universal principle that the Father just happens to do better than anyone else. No, the statement that “God is love” means that God, in his very being and character, is love and the very source of love. There is no other source of love to draw from.
This speaks immediately to what God has given us in sending Jesus Christ, his Son. Not only does he give us a true revelation of himself in Jesus, on account of who Jesus is as God’s Son, where we have the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature,” as the book of Hebrews puts it (Hebrews 1:3). But he also gives us his love. And if “God is love” then what we mean by God giving us his love is that he is actually giving us himself in Christ Jesus. This is the gift the Father is giving us on Christmas. This gift comes to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, where “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell” (Colossians 1:19). So, as we close out the Advent season, we can heighten our anticipation of Jesus’ coming, knowing that he brings us both his revealing light of who his Father is, and the love which he shares with his Father in the Holy Spirit. In short, we can anticipate the light of love coming to dwell among us.
To focus our attention on this light of love, we have the short account in Matthew that tells the story of the angel visiting Joseph. Matthew begins his Gospel by seeking to answer the question, “Who is this Jesus born in Bethlehem?” Matthew will fill out his answer further with four stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. The first one is in Matthew 1:1-17 where we find that Jesus is in the line of descendants of Abraham and David. The second answer he gives us comes from our text today where we find that Jesus is the child of a virgin named Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph. The third story is in Matthew 2:1-12 where Jesus is shown to be the king of the Jews and the hope of all nations. Matthew’s final story in 2:13-23 lets us know that Jesus is God’s Son who is called out of Egypt. Matthew begins his Gospel with a strong focus on letting us know just who Jesus is, and all the stories around Jesus’ birth give us more of the answer. They are certainly worth reading all the way through in anticipation and celebration as Advent ends and we enter the Christmas season.
But, for today, we will focus only on one of Matthew’s stories and see what light is given to us of God’s love.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18 NRSVUE)
Matthew finds it important to dispel any notion that Jesus is not from the line of David on account of the argument that Joseph was not his father. So, Matthew tells us that Mary was already engaged, or betrothed, to be married to Joseph before she was found to be pregnant. Unlike our modern-day engagement period where a couple is engaged to be married but not actually considered married until after the wedding, in the time of Matthew’s readers it was understood that an engagement carried the same weight as marriage. Betrothal, in that time, was considered a legal bond that was only broken by divorce or death. Our modern ears may miss this nuance, but Matthew is making sure to establish that Joseph is legally Jesus’ father and therefore establishes Jesus in the line of David. (through Solomon … Matthew 1:6,16). Interestingly, Mary was also descended from David (through Nathan … Luke 3:31-32)
Matthew may settle the argument with this clarification in the story of how Jesus’ birth took place, but he also sheds some light for us of who our Father in heaven is by way of the narrative. For starters, the theme of marriage is a perfect context to introduce the coming of Jesus. God, throughout the entire Old Testament, has presented himself as the husband of Israel. Jesus’ Father is a covenant God. When he sends his Son, he does so in the confines of a covenant relationship between Joseph and Mary, who are both Jews under the covenant relationship established between Israel and God. And, as disruptive and challenging as this sending of his Son may be for Joseph and Mary, the covenant must not be broken. We will see God move to ensure his covenant love breaking into the world does not break apart our covenant love for one another. In the narrative, what we see of the God that Jesus comes to reveal, is God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to us and will never divorce or abandon us, no matter how difficult things become. God’s claim on marriage is reinforced as the pinnacle witness of the covenant relationship he establishes with us in Jesus Christ. This is the love of the Father we see in Jesus Christ.
He is also revealed as the God of life. If anything signals life, it’s a new baby. Jesus does not come to us as an idea or philosophy. He does not come to us as a principle, or a law, or a value, and certainly, not as an inanimate thing. He is a real, living person. Jesus is our life. Jesus coming to us as an embryo brings the sanctity of life in the womb, indicating that no part of our lives is left untouched, and therefore, unhealed, since Jesus came to us first as an unborn child.
Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19 NRSVUE)
Joseph is then given the description as “being a righteous man.” But notice by what account he is considered righteous. He was unwilling to let Mary be disgraced. By the law, Joseph would be expected to divorce Mary for her apparent adultery. But, at great cost to himself, Joseph does not take advantage of this legal right. If he had, he could have regained the bride-price he may have paid. This typically represented several years of savings. He also could have kept any dowry the bride’s father had given. So, Joseph forfeited considerable finances out of compassion for Mary. Instead of going through the courts, he attempts to “divorce her quietly” as a way of minimizing as much public shame as he could. He did not want to make her a public spectacle.
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.” (Matthew 1:20-21 NRSVUE)
Now we find that Joseph is confronted with the truth of his and Mary’s situation. An angel is sent to let Joseph know that the child was not conceived by another human but is conceived by the Holy Spirit. For Joseph to continue with the marriage will mean he will now share in the shame that would have been limited to Mary. It will be assumed that Joseph and Mary conceived the child before their marriage, which would be a stigma they both would have to carry. (See John 8:37-41) It’s interesting that Joseph and Mary will be branded with sinning as they play their part of bringing into the world the one who “will save his people from their sins.” There is a bit of foreshadowing here of Jesus taking on our sins and giving us his righteousness. We are again given a light to see the Father’s love. The Father does not come to hold our sins against us, but to remove our sins by taking them on himself. God’s love is seen to be a consuming fire, a love that burns away all that is against us. Our sin will not be allowed to leave us in disgrace, as he will exchange our unrighteousness for his righteousness.
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 NRSVUE)
Matthew only gives one reason to why Jesus was born in this way, and that is to fulfill Scripture. This tells us the importance God places on his written word to us. He has chosen to speak to us through his written word and he does not back down from that commitment. This can give us confidence to go to the Scriptures to hear the Lord speak to us today. It is there he meets us in person, revealing who he is for us by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. The Living Word does not cease to be “Emmanuel” or “God with us” in his written word. On the contrary, the Living Word meets us and communes with us in his written word as a gift of grace to us. And until he returns, we can be assured he will still meet us in the pages of the Bible.
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25 – NRSVUE)
Joseph’s actions towards Mary are consistent with the grace God is bringing in his Son. God’s righteousness is understood as his committed love to us even at great cost to himself. His love is not limited by laws and rules but goes beyond to fulfill their intent. For Joseph to obey what the Lord commanded would mean he would take on the shame and suffering that would come by participating in the coming of Jesus. He would not choose a legal justification to abandon Mary. But notice the nod to resurrection even here at the beginning of Jesus’ story. Joseph obeys when he “awoke from sleep.” The obedience Joseph displays is given some teeth with the details of not having “marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son.” This was not just an obedience carried out in one decision, but an ongoing commitment to daily keep that decision.
You can imagine the amount of self-control this young couple would have to exert to live in this obedience. Joseph was also being a faithful witness with his obedience as the prophecy says that Jesus would be born of a virgin, not just conceived in one. Joseph would not compromise the witness of Scripture to Jesus by living contrary to it. But his obedience comes after he “awoke from sleep.” We too can anticipate an obedience that is a faithful witness to Jesus on account of the resurrection Jesus brings. We are made new creatures whose hearts have been turned back to the Father to do his will in faithful obedience day in and day out. We don’t do it on our own steam, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, let’s be clear who the real hero of this story is. It’s not Joseph, although he does serve as a wonderful example of one who is obedient, compassionate, and full of grace. But he serves as a witness of Jesus who is full of grace, bringing his obedience to the Father for us to participate in, while also bringing his Father’s compassion to us to receive.
Joseph also serves as an example of what we are to become in Jesus. Obedient, faithful, committed, compassionate, self-controlled witnesses to God. In a word, we are to take on the love God pours out on us.
It’s not Joseph who brings this love to the story. It is Jesus who brings the light and love of the Father to a darkened world lost in sin, waking us up to participate in his life by the Spirit. After all, let us not forget the miracle of the story. Jesus was born of a virgin. Joseph contributed nothing. The light and love of the Father is grace all the way through.
THE LOVE OF GOD … (CH#157)
PRAYER FOR SERMON
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
The GOSPEL . . . as per the GCI Statement of Beliefs …
- The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God and salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the message that Christ died for our sins and has made us his own before and apart from our believing in him and has bound us to himself by his love in such a way that he will never let us go. Therefore, he calls on all humans to repent and believe in him as Lord and Savior.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-5; Colossians 2:13; 1 John 2:2; Romans 5:8,18-21; John 3:16-17; Luke 24:46-48; Colossians 1:19-23; Acts 8:12; Matthew 28:19-20
The GOSPEL . . . as per the GCI Statement of Beliefs …
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-5
- Colossians 2:13
- 1 John 2:2
- Romans 5:8,18-21
- John 3:16-17
- Luke 24:46-48
- Colossians 1:19-23
- Acts 8:12
- Matthew 28:19-20
- The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God (
- and salvation (John 3:16-17)
- by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8)
- It is the message that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor.15:1-5; 1John 2:2 Romans 5:8;
- and has made us his own before and apart from our believing in him (Romans 5:8,18-21
- and has bound us to himself by his love in such a way that he will never let us go. (
- Therefore, he calls on all humans to repent and believe in him as Lord and Savior. (
HERE I AM, LORD … (CH#589)
CLOSING PRAYER (including Prayer of Thanks for Offering)