Christmas Eve Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
When it comes to the birth of a child, we all know that mom does all the work.
She carries the child for nine months, which is as fun as it looks, and deals with all the changes to her body that no one’s allowed to talk about.
Then, after nine months, the break’s over, and the real work begins: either labor or surgery, both requiring a time for healing and recovery.
Yet, all that said, mom has absolutely no role in determining the gender of the child she carries.
As we now know, every egg created by mom carries an X chromosome. It’s dad who contributes either an X or a Y chromosome.
Whether mom gives birth to a boy or a girl is determined by something that’s completely outside of her control. It’s dad who contributes the gender determining chromosome.
In our Gospel lesson, we hear the announcement to Joseph regarding why Mary is pregnant, which was, of course, news to Joseph.
Mary was betrothed to him, and this was more than what we call being engaged.
For them, it was a legal agreement.
The couple wasn’t married—they weren’t “trying things out,” they had not consummated the marriage—but they were committed to each another in a way that was legally binding.
Instead, we learn that Joseph was a just and righteous man, committed to living according to what God had revealed as His will in the Ten Commandments.
However, Joseph’s world is turned upside down when he learns that the nice girl he thought he was marrying had been messing around on him.
She was pregnant.
And Joseph was absolutely not the father.
Joseph was a righteous man.
He wasn’t about to marry an unfaithful, fornicating woman.
But he was also merciful.
He wasn’t going to make a public example of her and subject her to all the ramifications that he could have.
Instead, Joseph was going to divorce her quietly. He was going to end the legal agreement of the betrothal.
This was what was on his mind when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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 from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
The first piece of news was that Mary was righteous too. She had not broken the Sixth Commandment. She had not been unfaithful to Joseph.
Instead, God was doing something amazing.
The child in Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
It was God’s miraculous action that caused the virgin to be pregnant. She was carrying a boy, and when she gave birth to this son the name had already been chosen by God. They were to name Him Jesus—which means Yahweh saves—because he would save His people from their sins.
Joseph was to still take Mary as his wife.
And this is important.
Unlike a normal pregnancy, Joseph wasn’t going to contribute to the gender of the baby.
Joseph wasn’t going to have anything to do with the biology of this child.
But he was going to contribute something of far greater importance. Matthew begins His Gospel by saying: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).
Matthew traces the ancestry of Jesus from Abraham. If Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, this is an important detail.
Jesus, also, is to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David that he would have a descendant who would rule forever.
The key contribution of Joseph would not be biology.
Instead, he bestows a royal lineage on Jesus.
Joseph descended from Abraham and David.
By taking Mary as his wife, he was taking Jesus to be his own child. He was taking Jesus into his family line and thus fulfilling all of God’s promises.
Joseph didn’t ask for any of this. None of this is what anyone would want.
He gives up what must have been the desires of his heart—a good reputation and a normal wedding night.
He must have been mocked—his betrothed is pregnant, he doesn’t divorce her, everyone will look at him as guilty.
Yet Joseph obeys the angel.
He takes Mary as his wife.
He takes Jesus as his son, and he gives Jesus a Davidic lineage. And, of course, he cares for Jesus and Mary.
We see Joseph trust and obey God in spite of the fact that things aren’t going the way he expected.
They’re not turning out as planned, yet he walks the way of faith and demonstrates this by his actions.
The fact of the matter is, there’re many times when our lives don’t go as planned.
When this happens we often to get angry at God or we doubt His love or His care.
We don’t want illness or suffering. We don’t want our family members to struggle. We don’t want failure.
But God forgives us for this.
Jesus came to ”save his people from their sins” (cf. Matthew 1:21). His very name means “Yahweh saves.”
The baby who was born in Bethlehem made His way to Jerusalem. As we heard on the First Sunday in Advent, He entered the city on Palm Sunday in order to die on the cross that Good Friday. By His death He won for us forgiveness.
As Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
And then, on the third day, He rose from the dead.
Jesus has won forgiveness for us.
And He continues to give it to us.
He gives it through His Word.
He gives it in the baptism we’ve received—and we rejoice to remember our baptism, that great gift and anchor of our faith.
And in the Sacrament of the Altar He gives us His true body and blood, given and shed, forgiving us our sins.
We also receive encouragement to trust in God no matter what is happening.
God keeps his word.
God promised Abraham that in his seed all nations would be blessed. He promised David that his descendant would reign forever.
He promised—through Isaiah—that His Messiah would bring victory over all that sin has done.
And then He did it.
A key moment in this fulfillment happens as Joseph trusts God’s word and obeys the instruction he’s received.
He takes the child conceived by the Holy Spirit into the royal line of king David, trusting God to care for Him.
We’ve seen what God has done in Christ, and so are renewed in our trust and faithfulness.
God is still in charge, no matter what’s happening.
It may not turn out as we plan.
We may have to endure a bad reputation or even earthly suffering.
But God has not abandoned us.
He sent His Son into our flesh—to bear our sin—to be our Savior—to save us from our sins—that we would love and serve those who are in need—as we are able—that they—through us—would know the love of God.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
This sermo was taken from one preached by Rev. Mark Surburg, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church–Marion, Illinois.