“All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord of the prophets: Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call him Emmanuel. And, Emmanuel means God is with us!” (Matthew 1:24-25)
Here on the 4th Sunday of Advent we hear that Joseph, who is engaged to Mary, finds out she is pregnant. In those days, for religious Jews, being engaged was just as binding as being married. Most Jewish marriages were arranged by a matchmaker, between families. If you know the story of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, you remember what a big deal ‘making a match’ was.
That’s probably how this marriage was planned. That was the custom. So once you’re engaged, it’s a done deal. It was not expected that the couple would live together as husband and wife until after the marriage ceremony, but it was not uncommon for them to do so. Engagement in those days in that culture was looked on as a done deal, “a match made in heaven”. In Matthew we are told that it was not so for Mary and Joseph. They had not consummated their marriage. So, Joseph and Mary had a problem.
We do not know how old Joseph was. He may have been an older man or he might have been 18 or 19. I prefer to think he was 18 or 19, just because I think it’s a better story that way. Mary was young, maybe as young as 14 or 15. So, in my picture of Mary and Joseph, they were very young. Their lives were just beginning. And, life could be particularly hard for a woman in Palestine who was suspected of immorality. That was the situation here. Before long it would be obvious that Mary was having a baby.
Matthew tells us that Joseph cared about Mary, and didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace. The problem he’s most worried about is that the perception by the community that Mary was an immoral woman would destroy her life. And, to his credit, he was not willing to do that. Joseph makes a decision: “I will send her away quietly”. Maybe it would be better is she went somewhere else, where people didn’t know her, was he thinking he might join her later? Was he heartbroken because he believed she’d been unfaithful to him? Did he believe the baby was a miracle baby? We don’t know.
The distinction may be important to theologians and those who write creeds and statements of faith 2000 years after the event. But, Joseph and Mary’s immediate problem was their community, their friends, their families. And, Mary was the one who was going to suffer the most. Not fair, but that’s the way it was. Joseph was not willing to let that happen.
Well, that’s the backdrop here. While he was still trying to figure out what to do, in a dream he sees an angel who says to him, “Joseph do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a child, and you are to name him Jesus, which means, God saves, because he is going to save his people from their sins”. And then to be sure that we get the point, Matthew adds, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets: Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel. And, Emmanuel means God is with us.” (Matthew 1:18-25)
When Joseph wakes up, he remembers what the angel in his dream had said. “Don’t be afraid, Joseph. Take Mary as your wife, just like you planned. Welcome her baby. And call him Jesus. Because this baby is the way God is going to make his presence real to you, and to many. This baby is Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ It’s going to be okay, Joseph. Don’t be afraid”.
And, so that is what Joseph did. We don’t read anything more of Joseph in scripture after Jesus was around 12 years old. Neither the bible nor church history tells us what happened to Joseph. We know that life expectancy for men at that time was below 50 year old. By the time Jesus began his ministry, at about age 30; Joseph would have been at least 48-50 years old or older. It’s likely that Joseph had died by that time. That would mean that Mary was a widow, and may have been one for a number of years. The gospels tell us that Jesus had younger brothers and sisters. In fact, his younger brother James became the Senior Rector of the first church located in Jerusalem.
So, Mary may have had to raise her children as a single mother for at least a few years, maybe quite a few. Not an easy thing. But, then we already know that family life had not been an easy thing for her right from the beginning. But, however difficult those early days had been, she and her husband Joseph had stood together, and welcomed her first child, Jesus. And for them, he was the picture of ‘God being with them’. Of course, we know that’s true for every new parent.
But, even those who are not parents; who hasn’t looked at a newborn baby and seen one of God’s greatest miracles, and felt God’s presence in that moment? If that is true about our babies, how much more was it true about the baby who would show the whole world that God really “was with them”. Matthew tells us that Jesus came to be “among us”. Remember, ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves’. But, what does that mean? It means that salvation ultimately comes from God.
But, right here, right now, in this very moment, in this church, in your life, right where you sit or stand, Jesus is among us, and that means that “God is with you, and loves you just the way you are. Not for where you’ve been or done or where you’re going and what you will do in the future, but where you are and who you are right now, with all your faults, with all your blemishes, and with all your gifts. God loves you just the way you are. And, God is with you.
We celebrate the coming of Emmanuel every year, but we celebrate his coming, because he has already come to us, “and he will come again, and again, and again”. Because not only was he with the scared parents who welcomed Jesus at his birth in a manger, “he is also right here with us—Emmanuel, God with us!
Advent is anticipating the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…His coming is intended to be a constant occurrence in your life. It is an eternal thing, but it is also a continuous experience every single day.
Recognize God coming to be with you, in new and unexpected ways every day.
Emmanuel, come be with me at my school, in my studies. God be with me in my work and responsibilities. God be with me in my relationship with my family. Be with me in all my social constructs. Be with me in my hurts, anxieties, weaknesses, and brokenness. “Emmanuel come, be with me”!
“This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord to the prophets: Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call him Emmanuel. And, Emmanuel means God is with us”.