Matthew 1:18-25
God Is With Us

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  In the passage we read today is recorded the story pertaining to the birth of Jesus Christ.  It is the story known as "The Virgin Birth."

2.  Mary was engaged to Joseph.  Engagements back in her time legally held the same weight as marriage.  So, if a person committed the sin of adultery during this period it warranted the death penalty.  It meant that when Mary became pregnant in the betrothal period she entered into such a crisis.

3.  The Bible explains that it was through the Holy Spirit that Mary became pregnant.  But, who among her neighbors would ever believe such an explanation?  Of course, this was a crisis for Joseph too.  He was a righteous man.  Therefore, he couldn't marry her like that.  However, he probably had a hard time over her getting the penalty of being stoned to death.  He tried to divorce her in secret.  "In secret" means "not [formally] prosecuting [her] sin."

4.  However, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to receive Mary [to be] your wife.  The son in Mary's womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit."  Then, the angel spoke in regard to the naming of the son who was to be born.  When Joseph woke up from [his] sleep, he received Mary as [his] wife just as the angel commanded.  Then, this section of the story closes with the words "he named the son Jesus".

5.  This is the story of what we call "The Virgin Birth."  This belongs to God and lies outside human inquiry.  We are free to make all manner of inquiry into the issue and in reality for a long time in history many rational interpretations have been offered.  But, even still we have never come to read this story with its true meaning.

6.  When we read this story, we notice that Matthew deliberately does not emphasize the miraculous element of this event.  Even with the wonder of the way he was born he purposefully does not make any overstatements in attempting to explain that Jesus is the messiah.  As we reflect on the importance of the situation, [we notice] his way of telling the story is surprisingly reserved.  Instead, there has almost been an imbalance in the emphasis.  It is on the "name" of the child about to be born.  In this story the important point is not on the manner of the miraculous birth but is on the birth of a child who is to be named "Jesus" and the birth of a son called "Emmanuel."  So, I would like us to think together during this celebration above all other things about the meaning for us in the name "Jesus" and that first name "Emmanuel."

His Name Will Be Called Emmanuel

7.  Please look at verse twenty-three.  "'Look, a virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a boy.  His name will be called Emmanuel.'  This name means, 'God is with us,'" (verse twenty-three).

8.  What we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of the one called Emmanuel.  It is explained as having the meaning "God is with us."  What God showed through the birth of this person was that God is with us.  This is the message we ought to hear first and foremost during this service today.  It tells that "God is with us."

9.  Well, how does everyone hear these words?  In my experience, hardly anyone makes an unpleasant face or is offended when I say to them, "God be with you."  Many people seem to react joyfully and happily to God being with them.  But, first, I would like for us here to think again about this.  Is God being with [a person] [always] a joyful and happy thing?  Is it really something to be thankful for?  This question might be rephrased like this:  "Are you truly all right when God is with you?"

10.  In the New Interconfessional Version of the Bible, verse twenty-three has quotation marks.  This is an Old Testament quotation.  It is from Isaiah 7:14.  This is a message the prophet Isaiah originally had spoken to king Ahaz of the kingdom of Judah.  The time period precedes the birth of the Lord Jesus almost seven hundred and thirty years.

11.  At that time, the kingdom of Judah was facing a crisis situation.  Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel formed an alliance and was on the attack against [Judah].  The Bible relates the conditions of that time as follows:  "It was the dynasty of Ahaz, who was the grandson of the king of Judah Uzziah and was the son of Jotham.  The Syrian king Resin and Peka king of Israel, son of Remaliah, went up in order to attack Jerusalem, but they were not able to mount an attack.  However, the news that Syria had formed an alliance with Ephraim was passed on to the house of David and both the heart of the king and the hearts of the people shook as forest trees tremble in the wind," (Isaiah 7:1-2).

12.  We, too, may frequently experience coming under attack by anxiety and fear and get shaken like forest trees trembling in the wind.  What are our thoughts in such times?  "Oh, what should I do?"  Isn't that what we first think?  The trembling inside [our] hearts is revealed by the trembling in our behaviors.  In panicky behaviors a person starts moving back and forth in different directions.

13.  Yet, God has spoken in the following manner to king Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah.  "Calm down, be still.  Don't be afraid," (Isaiah 7:4).  And he goes on to say more:  "Unless you believe, you will not be firm," (7:9).  In other words, he said, unless you rely on God as the one real certainty you cannot ever stand securely.  The problem is not the invasion by the enemy but he has shown it to be their own uncertain steps.  Therefore, God was looking for them to rely on him first before they might even think "What should we do?"

14.  Also, God spoke further to Ahaz.  "Seek a sign in the Lord your God."  God said that he should seek a sign that God is truly a God worth trusting in.  But, Ahaz answered as follows"  "I will not seek.  I will not make any test of the Lord," (7:12).  It sounded like a very pious response.  Yet, the truth be told it wasn't.  King Ahaz, even though shown a sign, did not have the mind to trust and obey God.  He was thinking about possibly riding out the national crisis with the help of a major power, the nation of Assyria.  In short, what was in his heart was this saying, "In terrible times like this, can I say 'There is a God or I should believe?!"

15.  God does not look at the exterior.  He sees what lies beyond the robes of piety.  He cannot falsify what he sees.  What he has said there are words of prophecy quoted by Matthew.  "Listen, o house of David.  Is it not enough that you only cause humankind to have impatient feelings, but you are causing even my God to have impatient feelings?  Therefore, my Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, a virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a boy and will call his name Emmanuel," (7:14).

16.  Do you get the point?  In the original prophecy, the word "Emmanuel," which means "God is with us," did not have a very happy sound like it would seem.  We understand that as we read on ahead.  The following is written in verse seventeen.  "Since Ephraim split from Judah, the Lord will make you face many days which you have never faced before in the your own, your peoples', and your ancestors' house.  The king of Assyria is [the one you will face]," (7:17).  In other words, originally the saying "A son will be born.  You will call his name Emmanuel" was nothing other than a prophecy of judgment for Ahaz.  In the saying that God was with him seeing through all of his impiety and disobedience it meant precisely that judgment was facing him.  Isaiah was saying that because God was with him penetrating into his lack of faith, though he might escape the impending crisis, ultimately he would face a dreadful day fearing the Assyria in which he had trusted.

17.  Let's go back to the previous question.  Are you truly all right when God is with you?  Our righteousness, artificial piety, goodness in appearances only -- such things will all seem to blow away when in the presence of the truth and righteousness of God.  Nothing is hidden from the sight of God.  If there is no sin with us, then God's being with us will result in salvation.  But, if there is sin, God's being with us will simply not mean salvation.  Instead, it will signify judgment.

Jesus: The Name Of His Son

18.  But, the story of Christmas does not merely tell about the birth of the one called Emmanuel.  In the birth of this baby he is not just talking about the fact of "God being with us."  [The story goes] before that.  What did the Bible say?  Please check verse twenty-one.  "Mary will give birth to a boy.  Give the child the name Jesus; for, this son will save his people from [their] sin," (verse twenty-one).

19.  The name Jesus corresponds to Joshua in Hebrew.  Joshua is a name with the meaning "the Lord [is] salvation."  Therefore, after it was commanded to "name [him] Jesus," [the text] explains "for, he will save his people from [their] sin."

20.  But, the name Jesus is not a special [kind of] name at all.  In the New Testament alone two other people [with the name] Jesus appear in the text beside [the Lord].  When it comes to the name Joshua, this itself appears many times in the Old Testament.  To be brief, it is really a common name.  On the surface the command to name this son Jesus expresses that he was a completely average individual person.  In other words, as I mentioned at the beginning, this story does not depict what one might call a birth of some kind of superman who is not really a human being and who has this secret of a miraculous birth.

21.  This has to do with what is said regarding the name of Jesus that "this son will save his people from [their] sin."  What will he save them from?  It says [he will save them] from [their] sin.  Humanity has not changed in the fact that it has existed bearing many hardships from antiquity to modernity.  Therefore, people have looked for salvation from all sorts of pains and all sorts of deliverances have been given [to humankind].  However, the scriptures say the absolute tragedy of humanity and its fundamental hardship is that [humanity] has lost God.  In another way of putting it, [the Bible] says the reality that God being with [a person] results only in judgment, that is, the reality indeed that sin is in people is the greatest tragedy of [our kind].  If we think of it as humanity being thirsty, the truth itself that he is thirsty is not the tragedy but rather the fact that he does not have the source of the living waters is tragic.

22.  If it were for only setting one free from poverty or for filling up shortages, God would not have granted birth to the savior as "just a man.  He must have given to this world a being who went beyond [being] a normal human being able to fulfill the shortages and needs of every one in a supernatural manner.  But, what we are lacking is not "something" that can be given or added as a supplement in us.  No, that's not [what we are missing], it is God himself [that we need].  Therefore, what we have been in need of was forgiveness of sin, which has prevented a relationship with God.

23.  More than anything else above all we had to be saved from [our] sins.  For that reason God made the savior a mere man.  It was so he would save mere men and women.  God made the savior just a man, as our brother.  God put our brother on the cross and judged him.  He judged sin by putting our brother on the cross.  He judged our sin.  In him he judged our sin and God decided to forgive and accept us.

24.  "Name [your] son Jesus."  The naming [of him] as Jesus was none other than [his] beginning the way to walking to the cross as savior from [our] sin.  [The Bible] says he is "to be called Emmanuel."  It is significant that such a person [who is named Jesus] is called Emmanuel.  [Our] judgment is only over because we are forgiven of sin, saved from sin, and God begins to be with us.  Only through the forgiveness of sin does God's being with us become our new life, joy, strength, and hope.

25.  "Emmanuel," which used to be none other than a message of judgment, has become a message of salvation.  With joy and thanksgiving we confess that "God is with us" and we want to celebrate together from our hearts the birth of the Lord Jesus, the savior from [our] sin.

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