Read Matthew 1:18–25.
When we think of the Christmas story, we often envision a nicely packaged, stained-glass image of little baby Jesus lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph serenely nearby. Yet the events leading up to Jesus’ birth were far from neat. In fact, they were brimming with messiness and controversy. You can just feel the tension in Matthew’s narrative voice in 1:18–19 as he describes Mary’s pregnancy prior to their marriage and Joseph’s contemplation of divorce.
We can imagine the extent of Joseph’s shock—and perhaps even shame—regarding Mary’s pregnancy. But then he, like Mary, was visited by an angel. Joseph responded to the angel’s news with great humility and anticipation that this child to be born would “save his people from their sins” (v. 21). This news of salvation, too, would have been shocking—wonderfully shocking—for Joseph.
In our despondent world, there are times when the gospel message of salvation may lose its wow factor for Christians. We can easily take for granted that Jesus came to save sinners, which includes the unrepentant as well as the regenerate—in other words, us. This Advent and Christmas, may the shock of the highly anticipated event of Christ’s birth (especially for Joseph and Mary) not lose its impact on us. May we wonder and marvel afresh at Jesus’ willingness to be the sacrificial lamb who came to save his people from their sins.
Matthew points out another detail that can draw us into wonder: In the birth of Christ Jesus, we witness a prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Jesus is the Incarnation, Immanuel, who is “God with us” (Matt. 1:22–23).
During this season of global turmoil, the Incarnation of Jesus emboldens us in at least two ways. It can galvanize believers toward a deep-rooted faith in a Savior who indwells his people through the Holy Spirit. God is with us. We can live confidently and victoriously, not as victims but as victors in the Christian life.
And, for those of us who may have become apathetic in our faith, we are reminded that the gospel story generates vitality and purpose, especially for us to share this Good News with others. Jesus came as a helpless baby, but will come back as a just and righteous Lord at whose name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (Phil. 2:10). May we share this Good News generously. The day of salvation is now.
Matthew D. Kim is the George F. Bennett Professor of Preaching and Practical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the author of Preaching to People in Pain.
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