Can you believe that we are just a few short days away from the celebration of Christmas? For children this is a time of incredible anticipation and excitement. I can still remember those final days, when your mind raced with the possibilities of what might be wrapped up under the tree, or what Santa would bring in the stocking hung by the chimney with care. Would it be what you had hoped for, what you left notes and hints about? Only time would tell, and the excitement was part of the joy, part of the magic and wonder accompanying this special time of the year. There is so much about Christmas to celebrate and rejoice in. The decorations, the festivities, the gathering with family and friends, the reunions and the making of new memories, it is a wonderful time of the year.
Well, not always, or at least not for everyone. One of the things we realize as we grow up is how the magic and wonder of Christmas time often comes with a cost. There are the added stresses placed on one’s life during this time of year. The expenses which seem to get out of the control, the sadness for not being able to get the gift you really wanted to show your love. Or perhaps you get depressed at the exchanging of gifts without thought or meaning to them. The over-commercialization of the whole holiday makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach. And, of course, there are the deep longings which seem a little more agitated this time of year. When you see other families gathering you recall the division and heartache that marking your own family. Christmas time comes with renewed regrets and profound depression.
Yet during all of that, amid the tension between magic and wonder on the one hand and depression and anxiety on the other, you have managed to make your way here today. We are here to recall the heart of Christmas, the meaning at the center of it all, the whole reason we celebrate in the first place. It can easily be forgotten or overshadowed with everything else going on, but here we are. Today we are privileged to hear again the simple story of good news that changed the world. Good news so profound, it cannot be ignored. The story about the advent of God in human flesh, true God begotten of the Father from all eternity and true man born of the virgin Mary. This changes everything.
In the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we are invited to see the struggle of Joseph as he deals with the revelation of the great thing God is doing. The struggle is between him trying to make sense of things on his own and trusting in the Word of God. He was to be married to Mary and yet, before they came together, she is found to be with child. The child, she claims, is a miracle sent from God, her virginity is intact, she has been faithful. But Joseph is an honorable man. He may want to believe but he is unsure of how this is going to play out and what his role in it all is supposed to be. He figures the best thing is to separate from her, to break off the marriage. But even then, he does not want to hurt her, or embarrass her or publicly shame her, so he decides to do it quietly. As he considers these things we are told an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people form their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
This incredible working of God is not something Joseph is going to be able to figure out on his own. As Saint Paul says, “God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). It must be revealed to him, shown by God so he will choose the right thing. He has a role to play. He will take Mary as his bride. He will care for her and protect the child she bears. He will do all the duties of a faithful father. In fact, he is even given the name he is to give to the child. He is to call His name Jesus.
The very name He is given reveals what He is going to do. The name Jesus means, “The Lord is salvation.” This One born of Mary, this One Joseph will care for is the long-awaited Messiah, the One who will save His people from their sins. All of this is revealed to Joseph by the angel and all of it fulfills the promises and prophecies of God. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23). Immanuel, which means God with us. The shocking revelation given to Joseph is how the Christ, the Savior of the nations, is God Himself, God born of a woman, God in human flesh, God down in the muck and mire of our lives. Therefore, Christmas changes everything. This is why the story must not be forgotten.
Your God is not a God who is far off, a God judging from eternity and remaining beyond your grasp. No, your God comes to you. He comes in the most shocking way. He comes as a little baby in need of care and protection. He comes breathing the air of His creation, feeling the chill of the night, crying when He is hungry. He comes to live a life among you, to walk the faithful path, to bear your sin, to suffer your punishment, to die in your place.
A God who comes. A God that advents with His people and stands at the center of our worship and celebration. This is the great gift of Christmas, a gift that can only be received by faith. By faith you believe God has come. By faith you trust He was born of Mary. By faith, then, you confess a life changing truth. When the magic and wonder of this season comes under attack by the stress and depression and fear of life, it is your faith which makes the difference. Faith in the God who has not abandoned you to your own devices. He has not left you behind to figure it out on your own. No, your God has come to you. He is the great Immanuel.
For a “God with us” is not just with us at one moment in history, He is with you even now. He is with you in His ongoing gifts, in His Word and Sacraments. He is with you in the washing of Holy Baptism, as He claims you as His own child, as He declares you are forgiven and welcome as part of His family. He is with you as He comes here this very day in, with and under the bread and wine to give you a foretaste of the feast to come. His is actually with you, in your trials and your struggles, to remind you how you are not alone, to declare you are not forsaken, to promise, yet again, you are forgiven. He is with you in the proclamation of the preacher sent into your doubt and worries to pronounce your freedom and hope in the work of Christ alone, to say one more time, you are forgiven.
This is the heart of Christmas; this is what it is all about. God is with you. This is how you continue, how you endure, how you thrive until the culmination of all His works. In the joys and the hardships of the next few days, amidst the tears and the laughter, never forget this great truth, this profound mystery. God is with you.