18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Now, I know that Christmas isn’t actually today, but we do get a little teaser into the birth story of Jesus this weekend. I have a theory that the assemblers of the lectionary included this gospel here because, well, compared to the reading we’ll here on Saturday, from Luke, this reading is like the distant cousin that we don’t always remember until you get the Christmas card in the mail. Compared to Luke, this is downright boring – no travel to Bethlehem, no stable, no shepherds or magi. But this birth account does offer its own miracles – we have angels, we have the virgin birth, and we have Joseph (the only real account of Joseph taking an active part in Jesus’ life).
There’s a lot of interesting stuff that we could look at here. Joseph is described as a righteous man, and we can assume that means he followed the Jewish laws, but he actually did not follow the laws with Mary. He should be shunned her, possibly even killed her, yet had decided to “dismiss her quietly.” He was placing her humanity above his cultural responsibility. Then, after he had made up his mind, an angel appeared to him and instructed him not to dismiss her at all. He wasn’t married to her yet, he had no obligation to remain with her, yet he followed the angel’s orders and remained with her. Nowadays, if this were to take place, we would call them a “non-traditional family”, which isn’t bad at all. In his day, though, this meant that he would possibly be ostracized, along with Mary and this impending baby. He not only risked his social status as a righteous man, but his livelihood was on the line. As a carpenter, he relied on people needing his skills, but they certainly didn’t need to buy from him. They could have easily written off his workmanship as they wrote him off – sinful, unrighteous, untrustworthy.
But possibly the biggest piece of this story, the highest impact this story can make, is a short little part, right at the end. “…and he named him Jesus.” Compared to seeing visions of angels and the scandalous nature of his fiancé’s pregnancy, this phrase may not seem like much, but it is. In the ancient Hebrew culture, names carried weight. Being named was being claimed and the name that was given to you indicated who and what you would become. Jesus is given two names by the angel – Emmanuel, which means “God with us” and Jesus (or, in Hebrew, Joshua), which means “he saves.” By naming him, Joseph claims him and vows to raise him as his son. This scandalous, misunderstood child would be his until the day he died. He was sticking with him and would raise him as his own. He was raising the Messiah.
By naming him, by claiming him, by raising him, Joseph is actually putting the final piece of the puzzle in place. You see, the Messiah had been said to be a descendant of David. The first 17 verses of Matthew go into this in detail, but let’s suffice to say that by naming him, Jesus’ lineage is now traced back to David. Just as we have been talking about these last few weeks, God is using the unexpected to do extraordinary things. This illegitimate, adopted son of Joseph would later grow to be a man who turned the world on its head.
And you have a piece in that world turning. Just as Joseph claimed Jesus, Jesus claims humanity. By being born, especially in the way Jesus was, God reclaims humanity, redeems humanity, restores humanity. The gospel, the good news that comes in the form of a scandalous baby, tells us that the falling of humanity is the end. The gospel tells us that this baby, who would later be killed and rise from the grave, would share in our suffering, would share in our human experience, and claim it for his own.
In the waters of baptism, you are claimed in this common kingdom. In the bread and wine of communion, you are reminded that this new baby, named by Joseph, is ushering in new, abundant, and full life. This life is astonishing and shocking. This new life doesn’t make sense. We would expect that the strong would enter in and the perfect would be called. Yet, we are called, we are named, and we enter into the new kingdom – day-by-day, moment by moment.
Joseph was a carpenter, not a king. Mary was a pregnant teenager, not a socialite. Jesus was an infant, a human, not some strong demigod with plans for political upheaval. And you – you are not some perfect or powerful person, yet you are named as children of God. You are claimed within the kingdom of God and your life is used by God to proclaim that the world is changing. Love is winning over fear, justice is advancing over inhumanity, and grace beats out sin.
The world is changing, the baby that comes into the world is God incarnate. God with skin on. God, through this child, will teach people about the kingdom of God, will guide and model the sacrificial love that God holds for all of us. And God, through you, continues that work. You have been named a child of God, you have been claimed by God the Creator, and now God is using you.
Come, let us worship the Lord. His grace is for you. His love is for you. And his name, Jesus, Joshua, “he saves”, is meant for you. Amen.