ADVENT BIRTH Matthew 1:18-25
by Pastor Mike Fortune
December 13, 2008
Introduction: Bluefish Video: Advent 5 O Come O Come Emmanuel
Advent birth teaches us that...
- Grace isn't dead [Matthew 1:18-19; Hebrews 2:5,9]
- Because God is with us [Matthew 1:20-23; John 1:14; Revelation 21:3]
- And helps us live grace [Matthew 1:24-25; Galations 2:21]
Surprisingly, there is no mention in the New Testament of any celebration of the anniversary of Christ's birth. No trees, lights, eggnog. Nothing. The Gospels' accounts of Jesus' birth are very brief, consisting only of a few verses found in Matthew 1:15-25 and Luke 2:1-20. By contrast, the accounts describing the death of Jesus known as "The Passion Week," are lengthier taking about _ of each Gospel. But not so with the birth of Jesus. Apparently from the perspective of the Gospel writers, Christ's death is more important than His birth because it is through His atoning death that Jesus secured our eternal salvation. Thank God grace isn’t dead as we’ll see in point number one.
Yet, today Americans celebrate the birth of Christ more than His death. You know this is true because we spend $450 billion/year on Christmas every year. That’s right people. $450 billion with a “B”. If just the Christians in America spent less on Christmas, we could spend $14 billion of our own money and bail out Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford all by ourselves! We could allocate another $10 billion to provide clean drinking water for the entire planet. Instead, more and more Americans are losing their jobs. And more and more people around the world, 25k/day to be specific, die each day of preventable hunger related illnesses.
You’d think that after spending all this money every single year for Christmas that eventually some of us would figure out that Advent Joy comes from giving not getting. But still we spend and spend and spend while the least, the last, the lost starve all around us. Which we’ll be talking about next time so come back for more of that heart warming message! And bring a pack of socks when you come to drop in our sock drop back there. We’re collecting those for Hannah’s Socks.
But this week, we’re talking about Advent Birth. Not because December 25 was when Jesus was born. And surprisingly to some Christians, not because the Gospel writers tell us to celebrate Christ’s birth now—or even at the end of September or early October during the Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus was most likely born. No, we are zeroing in for a second helping of Advent now because more people who don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus think more about Him during these few weeks than at any other time of the year! So today like Paul, for their sake and for the sake of the Gospel according to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, we are turning unapologetically in our Bibles to Matthew 1 to learn and share more about Advent Birth.
Matthew 1:18-25 says, ““18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."
24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Matthew has already indicated that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. All you have to read is the last line of the genealogy in Matthew 1:16 to see that. From Abraham to Jacob to the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Not to the husband of Mary and father of Jesus. So we know that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but he did have at least six children of his own and we even know the boys names. Matthew 13:55-56 says they were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. Plus he had some sisters.
Most folks think Jesus’ brother James became the patriarch and first general conference president if you will of the Christian church in Jerusalem and Judas we think wrote the Letter of Jude in the New Testament right before Revelation. But the rest of the brothers according to Acts 1:14 became believers in Jesus too, but they weren’t always. John 7:5 makes that clear.
But because most pious hard working Jewish young men wouldn’t think of getting married until they had learned a trade and were at least twenty five years old and because it was customary for girls to marry shortly after puberty, most scholars think Joseph was at least 10 years older than Mary. Probably more. Which could explain his early exit from the Scriptural record. In that case, if Joseph had originally married between the ages of 25 and 30 and re-married Mary shortly thereafter, he would have been at least 63 by the time Jesus died. Well past the 50 year average life span typical of Jewish man in the first century according to highly respected Christian historian and author Paul L. Maier from Western Michigan University in his book In the Fullness of Time page 90. He gets that number by adding Joseph’s 30 years of life to Jesus’ 30 years of life before he started his 3½ year ministry according to Luke 3:23. Such an arrangement also explains why Simeon tells only Mary, though Joseph was present, that only her heart will be pierced with sorrow in Luke 2:34. Simeon said that because Joseph would die before Jesus did.
But what happened to Joseph’s 1 st marriage? The Bible doesn’t say. Perhaps his wife died in child birth or a terrible tragedy occurred. Apocryphal books of the Bible suggest such things and for once they might be right. But since Joseph was a just and devout man according to Matthew 1:19 who made sure Jesus was circumcised on the 8 th day and dedicated on the 40 th as Luke 2:21-22 reveal, the likelihood that he would have unlawfully divorced his first wife is not high. Instead, Matthew 1:18 simply says, “Jesus’ mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”
Grace is not dead
When I proposed marriage to Jackie, she laughed at me. We were taking a walk through the colorful fall leaves and on our way up the hill behind the men’s dorm at Andrews University, I knelt down and asked her to marry me. She laughed because when my knee hit the ground I groaned a little because I jarred my shoulder which I had hurt playing football. Flag football actually. Which doesn’t sound nearly as manly I know. But it’s what really happened. It’s not my fault that a very large angry seminary student stomped on me while my team was beating his in flag football resulting in an ambulance ride, broken bone, and a very painful shoulder in a sling.
So I groaned a little when my knee hit the ground and after Jackie stopped laughing and realized I was serious, she accepted my proposal and we started calling everybody telling them the good news of our engagement. Because I was broke and because theology students wanting a job didn’t buy their wives diamonds in that neck of the woods, I bought Jackie a giant cedar Hope Chest instead and slipped that on her finger just joking. About her finger not the hope chest.
How Joseph and Mary got engaged we aren’t told. Perhaps it was at one of the harvest festivals or at the village well in Nazareth since it was the only source of water for everybody. Nobody knows. What we do know is most couples didn’t date back then. Most marriages were arranged by parents paying careful attention to the comments and conduct of their children. And to this day, did you know, arranged marriages have a lower divorce rate than all the supposedly advanced Western countries and cultures combined? Did you know that? I’m preaching this to Lydia every day till it’s too late!
But somehow, perhaps with the help of Mary’s relatives or guardians, this likely orphaned virgin of at least twelve years of age [since it was customary for girls to get engaged shortly after puberty and married by fifteen] and this likely widowed husband of about 30 years of age finally noticed each other. And when they did, maybe they felt that God put them together for such a time as this. To testify to point number one: That grace is not dead—even if life encounters unspeakable tragedies of separation and loss. Even after your wife dies. Or your parents abandon you. Grace is not dead.
And this is just as true in the 21 st century as it was in the 1 st. We were reminded of that this week when an F-18 Hornet fighter jet experiencing engine failure fell from the San Diego sky and crashed into the house of 37 year old husband and father Dong Yun Yoon. One day later, he forgave the pilot who parachuted out of the plane that killed his wife, mother-in-law, and two daughters. Rescue workers sifting through the debris found the bodies of Yoon’s wife, Young Mi, also 37 years old; his nearly 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and mother-in-law on Monday. The body of his 15-month-old daughter, Grace, was recovered Tuesday.
How a grieving father speaking to a mob of reporters could say anything coherent much less do so sharing words of forgiveness and encouragement remind us though his family died, grace did not amen? The Advent Birth of the Christ child is obviously alive and well in this young father's heart. Proving even amidst unspeakable tragedy, that Jesus can grow in your heart as well. Grace is not dead. Point number one. It was already growing in the hearts and lives of Joseph and Mary long before they were engaged.
An angel spoke to Joseph
And after they were, however it was arranged, Deuteronomy 22:23-24 makes it clear that they were legally bound—though not living together. Because Matthew 1:18 says, “Before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” So first came love. Then marriage. Then came Jesus in a baby carriage! Actually, the engagement came first according to Luke 1:26-27. Then Gabriel appears to Mary personally according to Luke 1:28. Then, shortly after Mary returns from Elizabeth’s house, where she had been staying for months, Mary tells Joseph there’s a bun in the oven but it’s not his. Or she tells him nothing. And literally months pass. Because Matthew 1:18 and 20 make it clear that it isn’t until after Joseph discovers that Mary’s pregnant that the angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream.
Verse 18 says “She was found to be with child.” It doesn’t say Mary told Joseph she was pregnant. Did you ever notice that before? Does that sound like an episode of Jerry Springer or what? The next thing that usually happens on Maury Povich’s TV version is a large manilla envelope with DNA testing is revealed to confirm who is and who isn’t someone’s daddy. But there’s no DNA test in the Christmas story. Just the angel of the Lord. Who appears in person to Mary, but in a dream to Joseph. Not on the same day. But perhaps months apart!
Verse 20 says it was only “After Joseph had considered this found pregnancy, that he considered divorcing her quietly.” That he even considered it is also proof that grace is not dead. Because most men would’ve ended that relationship right there. Especially back then. Joseph legally could have stoned Mary. Maybe throwing a chair at the studio audience and gesturing wildly if he was on Springer or Maury. But however he found out that Mary was with child, he doesn’t do that. Why? Because grace isn’t dead! Point number one.
Instead, he considered these things. And only after he did so, did the angel show up in a dream to Joseph and speaking to him by name, say to him in verses 20-23, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
It probably helped that Joseph remembered the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 who said that “23A virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, ‘God with us.’” But still that had to be mind bending to believe that the virgin Isaiah was talking about hundreds of years earlier was his wife!
God is with us...forever!
Which leads us to point number two: Advent Birth teaches us that God is with us. O Come O Come Immanuel! We know He came because John 1:14 says, “14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The cool thing is that dwelling is not some temporary shack the Israelites were hauling through the wilderness. Yes, that’s what Exodus 25:8 says God wanted to do with them—dwell with them. And yes, He basically did so in a tent until Jesus showed up in person. But the coolest thing is the same word used to describe that dwelling of Jesus in John 1 is the same word John uses to describe the dwelling place of God with us in the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21:3. Which reads, “3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
Point number one: Grace is not dead. Because point number two: God is with us! And the Gospel truth is, he’s gonna stay with us forever. The Bible says God is literally gonna dwell with us permanently not in some temporary shack but in a brand New Jerusalem. Yes, in the meantime, we’ll have our questions and doubts, our ups and our downs, just like Joseph did. Which is what I told NBC 24 on Tuesday night when they came out here to get my thoughts on the gas prices and the economy. Pick up a hard copy of my blog in the back if you want more info about that. But the good news is just as He came the first time, Jesus is gonna come back a second time and eventually He will permanently dwell with us. Who else is looking forward to that day?
God helps us live grace
But the best news the Advent Birth teaches us is point number three: God helps us live grace, by His grace, in the meantime. Matthew 1:24-25 says, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Do you think it was a struggle for Joseph to do what the angel of the Lord asked him to do? You better believe it! But by God’s grace, he obeyed. And that friends is the only way any of us can! Paul says in Galations 2:21, “21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
So yes, God asks us to sincerely obey him. But whatever He asks us to do, He helps us do by His grace. Which means He is the common denominator in any discussion about faith and works in the Bible. As we discovered last time, rightly understood, all our works that the book of James talks about for example, are really Christ’s works. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But with Him, nothing is impossible. So everything we do is God’s works. And He gives them to us as gifts of His grace so none of us can boast about our obedience.
So in closing, let me share with you Max Lucado’s beautiful words in his book A Gentle Thunder pages 136-137. He says, “Let’s abandon our own works and accept Christ’s. Let’s abandon our own decency and accept His. Let’s stand before God in His name, not ours. Because the cross was heavy, the blood was real, and the price was extravagant. It would have bankrupted you or me, so He paid it for us. Call it simple. Call it a gift. But don’t call it cheap. Or easy. Call it what it is. Call it simply grace.”
Point number one: Advent Birth teaches us that grace isn't dead. Because point number two: God is with us. Point number three: God helped Joseph live grace—by His grace. And He will help us this week do the same. I hope this, friends, is our heart’s desire and our prayer. Because I’m sure it is the Lord’s.