Christmas Eve Vespers Sermon 2014
Christmas Eve Vespers
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 1:18-25
December 24, 2014
Before Joseph heard the good news, He acted in line with it. Here he had every reason to feel grieved and betrayed, and no doubt did, because Mary who was betrothed to him, who had promised herself to him, turned up pregnant with someone else’s child. But Joseph put aside his feelings of betrayal and grief. He didn’t seek revenge, to hurt Mary in return for what it seemed she had done to hurt him. He was going to put her away in secret, so that she would not be shamed as an adulteress, perhaps even put to death.
That is just how God acts toward us in the Gospel. Where we really have betrayed Him and been unfaithful, God responds not with anger and vengeance but with kindness. He does not punish us as our sins deserve. He remembers His mercy and seeks to cover our shame.
What Joseph did not know was that God was in the midst of doing just that through Joseph’s pregnant bride. He was not only softening His punishment, but wrapping His own righteousness around us to cover our sin. He was not going to put His adulterous creation away quietly, but take us as His bride through the baby which was conceived in Mary’s womb.
Joseph did not know that Mary was not pregnant through unchastity. She was pregnant with a chastity that no other human pregnancy had ever had. She remained a virgin, but had conceived a holy child solely through the power of the Spirit of holiness. There was no stain of sin whatsoever in Mary’s pregnancy.
But it was more than a spotlessly clean conception that did not violate her virginity. The child who was conceived in her womb was not just a holy man but the second person of the Trinity, God the Son.
God was with us in the womb of Joseph’s wife in a way that he had never been before. He was not only with us because He is present everywhere, according to His divine power and majesty. He was with us as a human being, a little unborn human being wrapped in His mother’s womb. He was with us in having skin, bone, blood vessels, eyelashes. He was with us living in a world that is scarred by grief and death and sin. He was coming into the world, about to enter it as one of us.
God was with us, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years before—“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which means, God with us.
But they did not call His name Immanuel, did they? No, the angel told Joseph that he was to name the child Jesus. And Jesus does not mean, “God with us.” It means, “The Lord saves.” And the angel explains that He was to be called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.
But the two names are the same. The Lord was present in Mary’s womb to save His people from their sins. The Lord was showing the mercy to His people that Joseph had shown to Mary. The Lord was not responding to the betrayal of the human race with vengeance. We had departed from God, but He drew near to us to save us from our sins. He had come into the flesh in Mary’s womb not to punish us or even rebuke us but to be with us in our sin and condemnation. He came to be with us under its dreadful burden and curse so that we might not be put away from the Lord forever in shame, but joined to Him forever as partakers of the same nature. The Lord was with us to reclaim fallen human nature from sin and make it God’s again, but this time even more intimately united to God than it was at the beginning. Now man would not just bear the image of God, but God would be man and take man’s image on Himself.
God was with us in Mary’s womb to be our Jesus, to be the saving Lord who saves us from our sins. And how would He do that? Not merely by being a helper and a guide and a teacher, but by sharing the shame and guilt of our sin, making it His own. That’s why He didn’t appear in majesty when He was born but in weakness. He put aside His power and majesty so that He could dwell under the same curse as us. He came to suffer as we do. We have lost the glory we were created with and now dwell on earth as exiles who are surrounded by pain and chastisement until we die. He came to be with us in our exile. We are no longer able to see the glory of God and rejoice in His presence except through faith in His Word. Jesus came to be with us and suffer that also.
We are cut off from God by our sins. We deserve to be sent away from Him forever, and sometimes we feel that we are. And when we feel this way the law of God reminds us that our unfaithfulness to God has earned us an eternal divorce from Him.
Jesus came to receive this most bitter fruit of sin—to be cast away from God for our sins. In being with us in our separation from God He saved us from our sins and united us to God forever.
Through Him we are bound to God with bonds of flesh and blood and bone. God has not sent us away but covered up our shame with His Son whom He gave to be our own. God gave Him to be our God and brother and bridegroom. He gave Him to be with us even in our death and separation from God so that we might be united to Him in His life and in His perfect union with God the Father.
God has not cast us away for our unfaithfulness. He has come near to us in our own flesh and bone. He has taken us as His bride. He is with us, and has saved us from our sins.
God not only was with us when Jesus was in Mary’s womb. He did not stop being with us when He ascended to heaven. He is still with us as the bridegroom who purchased us with the shedding of His blood. He paid for us not to be sent away. He intercedes for us, pleads with the Father on our behalf. And though He is at the right hand of God, reigning over all things for our good, He also is present with each one who believes in Him as our Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins. He gives us His Spirit who declares us free from our sins. He is with us to help us until we see His glorious face. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria