[Hugging Onto God:] God Is With Us

December 21, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 1:18-23

How To Bring In The True Christmas

1. When we think about how to bring in a true Christmas, we must not remove two things. That's what the scholar, Emil Brunner, said. What are those two things? First, he says, modern society has lost the joy of Christmas through worrying. We certainly do live in a society filled with anxiety. If we who are assembled here in this place looked back over our lives, if we [tried] to count through our list of worries, it would probably be beyond numbering. We will cross over from [this] year still having all kinds of problems, every one of us. Those of us assembled here in this place are just like that. But, we must not be robbed of our Christmas joy. Brunner says that is what Satan wishes for us, that all evil stems from the forfeiture or the loss of joy. We must not give joy to Satan by losing our joy.

2. But, there is the second thing which we must not take away. He says we ought not indulge in an artificial Christmas joy. An artificial Christmas joy could be defined as joy based on escapism, the joy from avoiding reality. "I don't care how evil the times are right now, I'm gonna forget it all. 'Cuz at least today's Christmas." Such is [an artificial] joy. The devil isn't about to rob a joy that's like a drug addiction; because it is all the more convenient to the devil.

3. We are not assembling here just to get a little Christmas cheer going. When you step outside and the cold wind hits you, that kind of [feeling] will blow away. We are here in this place to live with the true joy that absolutely cannot be stolen no matter what cold winds may blow or what storms we may be put into, a joy that will never be stolen by Satan, and also to keep living in [that joy]. Today, we are turning our eyes on this joy of Christmas, we are celebrating Christmas in the true sense with such joy, and we want to walk out of here hoping to embrace this joy and hug onto it tightly.

Salvation From Sin

4. So now, chapter one and beginning in verse eighteen from the Gospel According To Matthew was read today. In the New Interconfessional Version, the subtitle of "The Birth Of Jesus Christ" is given there. The scripture says the following at verse eighteen. "The circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ are as follows. The mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before the couple had gotten together, it was clear that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit," (verse eighteen). A conception through the Holy Spirit. It is the story of what is known as "The Virgin Birth." But it is generally felt that it was not designed with the intention to verify that Jesus is the messiah by stressing the wonder of her impregnation. The text is actually indifferent. Instead, the wonder lies elsewhere. In this narrative, names and their meanings are emphasized so that it feels skewed, imbalanced. [The text feels overly emphatic about] the name of "Jesus." And [it feels overly emphatic about] the given name of "Emmanuel" and its meaning. Matthew seems to be extremely over-particular about the meanings of those names.

5. So now, it is these names that we should also want to take note of during this Christmas service. Please look beginning in verse twenty-one. "'Mary will give birth to a boy. Name that child Jesus!; for, this child will save [his] people from [their] sins.' All these things happened so that what the Lord said through the prophets would be fulfilled. 'Look! A virgin will conceive and give birth to a boy. His name will be called Emmanuel.' This name means, 'God is with us.'," (verse twenty-three).

6. The name of "Jesus." It [used to be] quite a common name in the Jewish world. That name corresponds to the name of "Joshua" which appears in the Old Testament. But, here the main thing is its meaning. The name, "Joshua," means "The Lord saves." According to that name, this one who was to be born is the savior. What will he be saving [the people] from? At this point the scripture makes a special statement, saying, "For, this child will save [his] people from [their] sins," (verse twenty-one).

7. "He saves from sin." It is written in the scriptures quite naturally or very ordinarily, and it is even translated that way in Japanese, but in typical Japanese conversation the expression, "to save from sin," is hardly in use. We understand it when we say, "to save from poverty" or "to save from a sickness." We also understand "to save from a fire." But, since the expression "to save from sin" is not typical, an explanation is necessary.

8. To illustrate it, let's suppose that on the way home from church we all happened to see a small boy crying in front of McDonald's by the south entrance [of the train station] in Shimokitazawa. He looks like a lost child. While his mother was shopping, it seems he was walking back and forth little by little [until] he strayed away. Well, we would all want to help the boy. It's lunch time. He looks very hungry. Then Sister "A" buys the boy a hamburger. Then when she hands him the burger, she says, "Bye!" and she goes into the train station.

9. Next, Brother "B" comes passing by. Tender-hearted Brother "B" thinks, "He's been here by himself for quite some time. He must be lonely." So, Brother "B" visits with the child. The boy quits crying. He doesn't cry again. After Brother "B" plays with the child a bit, he says, "Okay now, you're not crying no more. See you!," and he goes into the station.

10. Sister "C" passes by the same place. Sister "C" goes walking with the child in search of his mother, and at last she brings the child to his mother. The boy is given a hug by his mom and a real smile comes back to his face. Who is the one who truly helped that boy? It is the last one, Sister "C." As the lost child was hugged by his parent, he was first saved. It is the same way for humankind as well. It is important for needs to be met. It is important to be healed of loneliness. But, a person is saved in the true sense exactly because he or she is held within the bosom of God. The scripture expresses that as "to save from sin, [to rescue, to deliver]."

11. "Sin" is the state in which we turn our backs on God, walk our own self-centered ways, and end up separated from God. It is the state of being like a lamb that is separated from the flock and is lost, heedless of the shepherd's voice. Being in a condition like that of a stray, it is natural that one will be anxious, lonely, and in pain. We could also make the case that it is natural for society to be filled with anxiety. Yet, God has pity on us so lost as we are. Jesus came to bring us back home to God our true parent. Hanging on the cross he made atonement for our sins, so that we might be forgiven, [though] we have turned against God in rebellion and lived self-centeredly, and so that as persons forgiven by God we might live in fellowship with God and we might be able to live as God's children.

12. Thus then, the scripture states that this infant will also "be called Emmanuel." That name means "God is with us." The reason Jesus came is so that we could joyfully say from the core of our being, "Emmanuel! (God is with us!)." No matter what may come at a person or how hard reality may get, since a person can say as a child loved by God, that "God is with [me]," that person is already delivered, rescued, or saved. Just like, [mentioned] just ago, the lost boy had been hugged by his mother. That [same] joy of salvation is the very joy of Christmas that God has given to us. It is the Christmas joy that cannot be stolen by anything.

Those Who Take On Suffering

13. However, we must turn our attention to another truth in this text. It is that for this savior from sin, this one called "Emmanuel" to be born, there were people who would have to take on suffering for that purpose. It is that there was somebody who would believe the plan of God and present his or her body in devotion to God. As you know, it was Mary and Joseph.

14. "The mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before the couple had gotten together, it was clear that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit," (verse eighteen). This was, first of all, more than anything else, a most dreadfully scary thing for Mary. The scene in which Mary accepts the news of the conception is recorded in the Gospel According To Luke. It is a scene you are familiar with from Christmas pageants. The angel appears first and announces, "What a favorable occasion this is, oh blessed one! The Lord is with you," (verse twenty-eight). Then he announced something terribly frightening. "Mary, do not be frightened. You have received a great blessing from God. You have conceived and will give birth to a boy, name the child Jesus!," (Luke 1:30-31). This is the same detail of "It was clear that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit", which I read just ago. When you ponder it from a realistic perspective, it is not a favorable occasion at all. Who in the world will ever believe some story that "she conceived by the Holy Spirit?" It is as plain as daylight that this birth would not be accepted in Jewish society at all.

15. Meanwhile, it goes without even saying that this all brought deep pain to Joseph as well. We see from where it is written that Joseph "decided to severe the relationship privately" that he also did not believe at first that she "had conceived by the Holy Spirit." [This] final decision [of his] was one where he had struggled all the way through it. [Then] Joseph had a dream. An angel of the Lord appeared in his dream and said, "Oh Joseph son of David, do not be afraid, but accept Mary as your wife! As for the child in Mary's womb, she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit," (verse twenty). Joseph believed it. So he decided to accept Mary. But, Joseph's suffering wasn't over. No, rather, it had just begun. It may have been that Joseph believed, but others were not likely to. His acceptance of Mary meant that he would have to bear both the suffering and the shame along with Mary. That's right. Both Mary and Joseph had taken on this [strange] suffering. By believing that God was doing something, by believing that God's plan was in progress, by believing the words, "Don't be afraid!," which God had said [to them], they took on suffering.

16. In the Christmas story, which is to be our joy, we find Joseph and Mary this way. Joseph and Mary should be considered representatives of anyone who has taken part in God's plan of salvation. Jesus Christ came as the savior from sin. But it seems for anyone to have a share in salvation and to make the statement with joy, "Emmanuel (God is with us)," it is necessary for somebody to present himself or herself in devotion to God and take on pain. Persons like Joseph and Mary are needed. As a matter of fact, the reason we are joyously celebrating Christmas right now like this is many persons, even in this place, have presented themselves in devotion to God and have taken on suffering.

17. We are assembled here to celebrate Christmas. Our Christmas joy mustn't be stolen by anyone, not by anything in this world whatsoever. But, it is not just for us. We will leave this place, hopefully embracing and hugging onto this joy. -- So that during this season, we will believe the plan of God, present ourselves to God, and live bearing the crosses we should bear upon our backs, for someone's joy, for someone's salvation, for someone to one day be able to say, "Emmanuel!"