Ever since my days in primary school, technology has been part of my life. I was there when it was all new: dial-up and then broadband; all the different windows operating systems; Playstation’s, Xboxes, Gameboys…. I have been there for it all, seen it all and enjoyed it all: Using technology is just normal me. Especially, when I studied Computer Science at University and worked as a programmer for a few years before going into Ministry: it means that almost every part of my life at some point has involved or evolved around computers. Computers are so normal to me that they never give me any sense of awe and wonder. Then sometimes I see people who do not understand technology in the same way as me or are using computers for the first time and you see that sense of confusion, wonder – you see skewed on the face of the person the brain working hard to understand: People like my grandfather, who has lived more than I ever will and yet, Is not very familiar with technology; sometimes with him I am reminded just how amazing technology is and can be: Like when I have been travelling and we would use FaceTime to phone Grandad, or you would hear him marvel at the fact that we could instantly send photographs and videos across the world in a few minutes: you would hear him exclaim: “Isn’t it amazing what you can do today” Through Granddad I seen anew that wonder that technology can cause. The truth is for me, these few verses can be like technology: I am so used to them that they sometimes have lost their meaning. So for a few minutes today, I want us to look at this passage as if we have never seen it before. To let it shine a new this Christmas time.
18a: A Significant Sentence
“It came about like this….” is sometimes how we would phrase a response to a question. This reading starts as if somebody asked Matthew “How did it happen?” So Matthew starts to explain one of the most significant events in human history in a way that seems so dull, so normal, so similar; as if a conversation between two friends describing the most mundane event. “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about.” Yet, if we actually stop and listen to these first few words at the start of this passage (Matthew 1:18a) and take them at their value you realise that this sentence is not dull, it is not safe – it is everything. When we take it word-by-word and grasp the significance of what some of these words seek to proclaim to the world, only then can we start to grasp the significance of the truth that is held in 10 simple words before a semi-colon. So lets take a look:
When you consider that “this” actually refers to the moment that all of the Old Testament has awaited and pointed to: moreover, “this” means the moment at which God begins to act his final plan of saving humankind. “This” suddenly seems a lot more that just ‘this.’
When you read on down the sentence and stop at Jesus and recall that in the Near-East every name held a meaning and a lesson you grasp that “Jesus” which means Rescuers/Deliver or “God Saves.” is so much more than just a random name: it is an expression of the Identity and mission of the baby who was to be born: He whom through God would “Save his people from their sins.”
Finally, lets consider one more word, a word that we often say and hear – especially at Christmas – Messiah. To me, it’s a word similar to “apathy” or “empathy” I know how to use it, even when sometimes I am not sure what it means: Messiah, is one of those words that we say in reference to sports, politics and yet we never fully grasp the significance of it. When Matthew writes“Messiah” immediately he is making a significant claim that the Jewish reader would have recognised. To a first century Jew the word Messiah declares: “that the one whom the prophets have spoke about, the one who God promised that would deliver Israel is now here.” It is a word that leaves us with no middle room, either Jesus is who the bibles says he is – the one who through God will save his people form their sins, or he is as useful in light of eternity as a teapot made of ice.
Two Words: Jesus and Messiah that leave us with no wiggle room, no freedom to chose something else. In ten short words our very comfort should be shocked or your confidence renewed as Matthew challenges you here to either accept or reject Jesus: Only when we grasp the fullness and significance of these ten words, only then can we start to grasp that Matthew 1:18 is something more than just the birth of another baby, Matthew 1:18-25 is either all or nothing.
18b & 19: The Scandal
Let’s be clear about: the story about the birth of Jesus is nothing short of a scandal. Stop, and think for a moment; if you as an author of a historical book wanted to write about the birth of a new king – more specifically, you wanted to write about the birth of someone with whom you where going to claim they would be the Messiah of the world, is this how you would start it? An unmarried pregnant peasant girl, who luckily had the excuse of becoming pregnant outside of wedlock by the divine? It is not how I would chose to start it, I do not think it is how any sane author, would chose to start a story that is meant to be true and I think we would react how Jospeh does: How do I get away from this!
In verse 19 Joseph has noticed that his Fiancé is pregnant and putting two and two together has realised that it is not his: Engagement in those days was a lot more binding than today – it was almost as binding as marriage: which is why to end it would require some form of divorce. Yet, even as Jospeh seeks to come up with his own plans to handle the situation we see that he is a man of God, even in the deepest of scandals we see that he cares for Mary and wants what is best for her, that he seeks to divorce her quietly. Joseph reacts to the situation as anyone would. He is simply dealing via the information that he has. Yet, what this passages shows us that what God starts he finishes.
20-23: The Saviour has Come
No Sooner does Jospeh start making his own plans can he make decision before God steps in. Sending an Angel to intervene and explain to Jospeh that Mary is not caught up in some scandal and using God as an excuse to try and cover up sin (as we so often do). No, Mary has been chosen by God to be the vehicle though which salvation would come: She will be the mother of the Messiah. So the Angel, explains that through the baby God will save his people, all people from their sins.
The angel asks Jospeh to Trust God and in the Good news of Jesus: He asks that Joseph willingly become part of a scandal that he did not need to, to bear the shame of raising a son that was not his own as if he was his own, because, through him God would save his people from their sins!
God speaks to Jospeh and asks something of him: Jospeh hears God speak, considers the request and then acts it out. Joseph was told without great explanation that the child forming in the womb of Mary would bring about salvation; that from Scandal would come salvation. When he would awake form his dream he had the freedom to do what ever he wanted: God does not force anyone to do anything. Yet, when God spoke to him and asked him to trust and obey, Jospeh knew there was no other way. He trusted and placed his faith in God and the still to be born Jesus.
Maybe you have heard it a thousand times before, but stop, consider and ask: “What if its true?”. See like the moment when Joseph woke up from the dream you have a choice, I have a choice, we all have a choice: we can walk away from it all; dismiss it for the scandal it is: Or, as the angel spoke to Joseph then now the scripture declares to you: “this is no Scandal. This is the greatest gift of all” This is the moment God begins and will fulfil the greatest plan the world has even know in a way that the world would never think of. The question is are you ready to trust like Joseph? As the angel goes onto explain, through the mentioning of Isaiah’s Prophecy, this event has been planned all along. God is doing now what he planned to do all along.
22-25 Conclusion: A Prophecy Fulfilled.
So Joseph awakes from his slumber, a changed man. Now in awe of God and not worried about the opinion of those who would look at his pregnant and unmarried fiancé and judge. He is excited by what God has revealed to him and acts in accordance with it taking Mary as his wife and with that the unborn baby as his son, naming him as commanded.
What these few verses describe are an amazing movement, When God would take on the form of a baby and with it all its vulnerability in order to bring about the salvation of the world. When God would begin his plan of salvation in a way that none of us would, When God gives us that which we need (grace) and could never achieve ourselves. What is even more amazing, is that on that night when the saviour was born; when if its true the most glorious truth became incarnate in human form an entire village around him slept unaware of what had just happened. The next morning, hundreds of people got up and went about their business: Maybe they knew of Mary who had got pregnant out of wedlock and Jospeh her stupid husband who took on the care of a child that was not his own, maybe they whispered about it and would see her on the streets and Gossip and glance; Maybe as the years went by they would see the boy Jesus playing in the streets and wonder did he know. They would see and yet they would never know the truth and beauty of what just happened. The amazing thing as we recall these events is we see and with the benefit of Gospel Hindsight, we have the blessing of being the fly on the wall as a participant in the dreams of Jospeh, the question is are we going to respond today to Gods Gracious Gift – Jesus – in the same way as Jospeh. As the first sentence shows us these few verses are either true or nothing to us. And, if they are true then we can only have one response, we come to Jesus and admit our need of a saviour. We trust him to do what God said he would deal with our sin. This Christmas let us receive the greatest gift of all: Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, the king who would go to the cross so we don’t have to, so that we could know infinite joy, peace and relationship with God.