Advent 4 - God with us

Revd. Heather
Sunday, December 22, 2019 - 9:30am

Matthew 1:18-25


This week as a friend phones late at night, distressed, I feel slightly helpless being so far away, and home alone looking after the sleeping children. Quickly I realise that all I can offer is to be with her on the phone. To listen. There have certainly been times in the past when I have needed someone on the end of the phone – or better still alongside me – to listen, to comfort, to give hope. We chat for some time, and then we start talking faith – her faith seems to have strengthened recently despite the mess that surrounds her, and we talk about that gentle confidence that God is holding her, renewing her flagging strength each day. That God is with us. 


The situation that Mary and Joseph find themselves in in our Gospel reading today, is to be frank, quite a mess. 



Mary is pregnant. Joseph is betrothed to her – they’re not yet married, but betrothal is a serious commitment and would require a divorce to end. The baby isn’t Joseph’s, well not in a biological sense. 


Matthew, in his Gospel simply describes what has happened to Mary and Joseph. Neither of them speak at any point. Little is made of Mary’s experience in the birth narrative. You have to look to Luke for that. It’s Luke who records the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and that story feels slightly less messy. More straightforward. As straightforward as finding out you’re going to be the mother of God can be. But the Angel visits Mary, Mary accepts – ‘let it be.’ Mary is radiant in song, confident of her calling, her favour with God. As the baby grew within her, she had that confidence of her encounter with the angel, her message from God. However crazy her calling must have felt, and it must have been pretty overwhelming at times, she had that reassurance. 


In Matthew’s Gospel the focus in on Joseph. And boy, it can’t have been easy for him. His beloved is pregnant. He must have been heartbroken, so disappointed. And yet he wants to stand by her in this mess that she has found herself in, and dismiss her quietly. I often wonder how you can dismiss a pregnant lady quietly – the baby would surely soon become fairly obvious. But still, he is described by Matthew as a righteous man and he’s keen to support Mary as best he can, despite the shock of the situation. 


And then an Angel appears to Joseph in a dream, and tells Joseph what has happened – the child is God’s and he should take Mary as his wife. Suddenly he realises that God is with them in this mess. He needn’t be afraid. In an instant he takes Mary as his wife. In an instant Mary and Joseph know God is with us.


But there’s more. The angel gives the name of the baby to Joseph – he shall be named Jesus. 


And this is significant, really significant. Jesus, a common Jewish name is derived from the name Joshua which means ‘to save’. And it is absolutely the right name for the long awaited Messiah of Israel. For it was widely believed that the Messiah would be the saviour of the people. ‘The Joshua of old had been given the given the task of conquering the promised land and the new Joshua,’ – Jesus – as we will discover as we explore Matthew’s Gospel further, ‘is being sent to save his people from their sins, making it possible for them to live as the people of the promise.’[1]


Moreover, Matthew goes on to tell us all that this vision from the angel to Joseph fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah 7: ‘the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel.’ Emmanuel, the Hebrew meaning ‘God with us’, is not a usual title and so it attracts some attention. It is a really important theme to Matthew’s Gospel – look out for references to ‘God with us’ this coming year as we hear Matthew’s Gospel read in church. Matthew wants his hearers to know that the Lord is with them, and this promise culminates in that final verse of the Gospel with the words ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’


And so today, what for us on this fourth Sunday in advent – as we look ahead to celebrating the birth of Christ this Christmas day. Today we remember especially Mary and Joseph, and their knowledge, their belief, through the visit of the angels that God is with them in this – what may appear to an outsider – mess. But not only that, through the words of the angel to Joseph, through the link to the prophecy in Isaiah we too received God’s promise in the incarnate Jesus to be with us. 


Life can be messy. We remembered at our Blue Christmas service on Friday the pain and heartache that comes with grief, with broken relationships, illness, or stress. But we remember too that thanks to that first Christmas day, of Jesus Christ coming into the world, we have that promise that God is with us. And it is often in this mess, in coming to acknowledge our need of God with us that God’s most transforming work is done.


So day or night, whatever you face, remember that God is with us, God is with you, this Christmas time and for all eternity.



 [1]Hauerwas, p.36