December 22, 2013 - Matthew 1.18-25

“God is With Us!”

Matthew 1:18-25

December 22, 2013

 

18 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 with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

 

I find it interesting that in all four gospels, Joseph never says a word.  Not one utterance at all.  Not even a “Wow!” or a “Golly!” nor even a “Mary’s what!??!”  Nothing.  Joseph never says a thing.  Come to think of it, what could he have said anyway?  Words would fail the best of us.

When you begin to think about God, I mean to really think about God, to contemplate who and what God is, to try and touch with your mind the reality of this being that spoke the universe into existence, one of the first things that we are confronted with is that our language is inadequate for the task.  You just can’t find words that will do the job.  Nothing in our realm of human experience can communicate or describe God in any form of completeness.

The scriptures tell us we now “see through a glass darkly.”  God is so beyond where we are, we cannot get a clear picture of God it seems.  Many linguists will tell you that all language is in reality just a metaphor.  That is, the words we use do not in fact relay the reality of a concept, just a metaphor about that concept.  Metaphors are by definition inadequate.[1]  They point toward something, but do not completely describe it.  In fact, perhaps one of our most used metaphors is the word “God.”  (I am not talking about God, just our word for God.)  So far as God is concerned, we are not able to put into one word all of the fullness of who is God.  When we say God, it is as if we are making this grand gesture toward the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Savior, Master, Ground of All Being, Lifegiver, Nurturer, Lord, and all the other names we can come up with.  When we say “God” we are not conveying the fullness of who God is, but merely pointing in God’s direction.

This is the problem that takes so many people to the place where they will say, “There is no God,” like the atheists and “We can’t know God at all,” like the agnostics.  They get stuck on what they can’t understand like a ship on a sandbar and then decide it is pointless to try to free the ship because they can’t prove the sea exists.  They demand that there be complete, comprehensive and humanly understandable proof in order for them to have faith.  It is illogical to believe that a being so far beyond our own existence could be fully understood in human concepts, so asking for full disclosure of God in order to believe in God is flawed reasoning.

But even in our fumbling human attempts to discover God, we see a few glimpses of God’s reality poking through.  Quantum physics has gotten to the point where people such as Stephen Hawking are reaching a point in their research and theory where they are seeing things that could only be explained by the existence of God.  In higher mathematics, they have reached a point in their thought where reality begins to break down without an outside force holding it all together.  Even in other world religions, you will see them stumble upon something once in a while that echoes something Jesus said.  But none of them quite get it right or can adequately describe God.  All of our human attempts to reach or describe God fail.  UNTIL – you talk about Christmas.

The reality of God escapes us, and it will elude us, until we look in the manger.  We are now in the season of the Christian year that challenges all those assumptions and our inability to communicate who God is.  God understood our limited capability, so God did something about it.  God came down to us.  Every human religion is an attempt of humanity reaching up to God, but Christianity is about God reaching down to humanity.  The very center of our faith is founded on what the angel tells Joseph, and what Isaiah proclaims, that his name shall be “Immanuel,” which means “God With Us.”  That is a phenomenal statement.  God is with us.  What confounds us every time we try and talk about God is completely dissolved when we look at the face of Jesus.  God is here, with us now.  God has a face.  A name.  A personality.  Joan Osborne had a hit song in 1995 with, “What if God was one of us?”  Well, God was!  The wondering can cease!

This is what we call the incarnation – that God became a human on earth.  It truly is a scandalous thought!  It is one thing to say that humanity is not God; that God is beyond us.  And it is another thing to say that we can’t know everything about God.  But here is an event that reminds us it is quite another thing to say that God has come to us as a human.

A real danger in our inability to understand God is that so often people will accept almost anything as God.  The attitude in today’s culture is that anything that resembles a spiritual awareness is accepted as faith.  “Whatever you believe…” But with the coming of Jesus, that vague kind of blanket acceptance is debunked.  God has a name.  A face.  God said things using human speech.  God did things among us.  We can’t just make God into anything we want, into a symbol or metaphor meaning whatever we like.  There are boundaries now that God became flesh and dwelt among us.

There are many things that we can debate about Jesus.  We can debate if he believed in fairies, or if the world was flat, but we can have no debate over whether or not he thought that rich people were in grave danger, or if he cared for the sick and dying, or if he cared about the poor, or if he chastised the judgmental or if he forgave sinners, or if he died and rose again.  We are stuck with concrete, irrefutable evidence that says exactly what God thinks and who God is.  What to know what God thinks?  Jesus told us.

It seems that some folks like not knowing God more than knowing God.  Jesus told us who he was.  Perhaps some people are more comfortable with a God they can’t know than with one they can.  I think that the problem with us humans in our understanding of Jesus, is that no one really asked for this much God.  Why else would virtually all religions be willing to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher and prophet, (like Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) but deny what Jesus said about himself?  C.S. Lewis said it best

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing that we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a mad man or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.[2]

Maybe all of our talk about what we “can’t really know about God” is really just a smoke screen or an attempt to weasel out of all of the evidence that we have about who God is and who God wants us to be.  Got a question about whom God is?  Look at Jesus.  Got a question about who God wants you to be?  Be who Jesus told us to be. 

Our humility about what we know about God also can give us a convenient way out when Jesus makes clear ethical and moral demands upon us.  The incarnation, God in human flesh, is not only the greatest gift to us as people who live in the flesh; it is also the greatest challenge to us who live in the flesh.[3]  Jesus lived in the flesh.  God was flesh.  We can be the body of Christ in the flesh.  God became flesh and dwelt among us, Immanuel, and when we do God’s will in this world, we can be God’s flesh in this world.  The incarnation does not have to stop when we read of Jesus ascending to heaven.  Jesus said that we would be his body on this earth.  OK.  Time to step up to the plate, folks.

Our God did not stand by and look at this world and say “Man, that’s a real shame.”  God jumped in with both feet to save us all.  We are to do the same thing.  I don’t have to tell you that there is a great difference between being “concerned about the homeless” and spending your Christmas Eve serving food at a soup kitchen.  There is a difference between being concerned about world hunger and sponsoring a child through World Vision.  There is a difference between being concerned about legalized abortion and adopting a child.  There is a difference between being a “missions minded church” and actually taking a week of our vacations and going on a mission trip, rolling up our sleeves and doing missions. 

God did not stand by and leave us to our own devices concerning what we could know for ourselves, understand for ourselves, or do for ourselves.  This is what Christmas means.  God is with us.  God spoke to us, lived with us, suffered and died for us.  God is with us.  God poured out his life for us, becoming a human and being with us.  Our job is to prove to the world, by our actions and lives, that God is still with us. 

The question for us today is, “Are you with God?”  How have you responded to the awesome act of God’s Incarnation? Though nothing is recorded of Joseph actually saying anything, his actions said “Yes.”

 

[1] Willimon, Wiliam; “Pulpit Resource,” vol. 29, no. 4, Oct.-Dec. 2001, Logos Publications, Inc., Grove Heights, Minnesota, p. 48.

[2] Lewis, C.S.; Mere Christianity, Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1952, p.40-41.

[3] Willimon, p. 49.

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