Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 1:18-25
Dear people with the promise of eternal joy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christmas doesn’t always feel so joyful. We may be able to remember past Christmases which were filled with joy, but times change. For some, this will be the first Christmas spent in a nursing home and they are unable to celebrate with family as in the past. Some are spending this Christmas in the hospital, reeling over a scary diagnosis. Many are spending this Christmas as widows or widowers, and Christmas just isn’t the same anymore.
The first Christmas wasn’t all joy and happiness, either. Joseph’s life was unravelling. Everything had been going well. Joseph had found the girl he wanted to marry. In fact, Joseph and Mary were betrothed, so they had already promised themselves to each other. They were already in a legally binding relationship, the first stage of marriage. They were living chaste, pious lives – not living together or sleeping together, but waiting for marriage.
Then Mary came back from visiting her relative Elizabeth for three months, and she was “found to be with child.” Joseph knew the child wasn’t his, so he assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. What other possibility is there? Sure, she had some story about being pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but that sounded about as believable to Joseph as it would seem to a husband-to-be today.
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about what Joseph was thinking, but it does tell us that he resolved to divorce her quietly. He obviously didn’t believe Mary’s story. He must have been upset. He must have felt let down and betrayed. How could Mary do this to him? He loved Mary, but what was he supposed to do now? If Joseph kept quiet and just took Mary as his wife, then everyone would think he was guilty. The small community in which they lived would ridicule and shame him. Back then it was not as it is today, with fornication and children born out of wedlock as the norms of society. Back then, there was still a sense of shame over such sin, and the law prescribed penalty for a betrothed virgin fornicating was the death penalty by stoning (Dt. 22:23-24).
Therein lay the other problem. Joseph didn’t want Mary to be executed, either. He thought if he could quietly divorce her, then she could escape the death penalty. Yes, he thought she had acted very wickedly towards him, but he loved her and didn’t want her to die, and he didn’t want the community to shame or ridicule her.
As Joseph wrestled with these decisions, he was not joyful. There was no happiness in his life as it seemingly crumbled apart and as he thought of what the future would be. Joseph was not full of Christmas joy and cheer.
A messenger from God changed everything for Joseph. The messenger told him, “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.”
That’s great news! Mary was telling the truth! She hadn’t betrayed him or been unfaithful to him! And on top of it all, this child is the promised Saviour who will save people from their sins!
That’s the thing about messages from God. They show us that in the middle of what seems like crisis and disaster, God is there with His people. God gives good news in the midst of sadness. In the midst of loneliness, sickness, death, and betrayal, God sends His good news through His messengers.
Even if Christmas will not be the same this year for you; even if Christmas will never again be the same as it once was, know that the Christ child came to save His people from their sins.
This is such good news that it is bound to bring joy. This good news means that the nursing home isn’t your final home – you have an eternal home in the heavens. This good news means that your stay in the hospital and your diagnosis isn’t permanent – even if God doesn’t heal you in this life, He will heal you in the life to come. This good news means that your sadness and loneliness won’t last forever – you have the promised reunion with your loved ones who have died in the faith.
Thus, we will have joy this Christmas no matter what we have to face in this life – no matter how much our lives might seem to be crumbling, no matter how bleak and sad things look, no matter how little this year’s Christmas will remind us of Christmases past.
We have the good news that God fulfilled His promise and sent us His only Son. The virgin Isaiah prophesied about did conceive and bear a Son, and His name is Immanuel, which means God with us. Immanuel died for our sins and He is still with us. He is with us in His Word, He is with us in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He is with us in His body and blood which He gives us to eat and drink.
Jesus is the bringer of joy, because He has saved us from our sins. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is with us through the heart-breaks and betrayals; He is with us through the illnesses and diseases; He is with us at our death beds. When our last hour comes, He will take us to be with Himself in eternal joy and happiness. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will never again be sad or sorrowful.
Thus, Christmas is joyful. Even amidst the sadness of this life, we have the joy of Christmas, that God sent Jesus, our Saviour, who died for us, saving us from our sins. Having the promise of eternal life, we have the joy of the promise of eternal joy. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.