“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Matthew records the birth of Jesus as very simple. He doesn’t add anything to make it sound better, he just records the facts. Matthew is brief in his account. He doesn’t mention many of the details we have come to associate with Christ’s birth when compared to the Lukan account. Matthew’s God-given task was simply to relate the facts of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. For Matthew, he does it from a different angle than one would expect: he does it from the perspective of Joseph, the step-father of Jesus.
Matthew begins by saying, “When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This was significant for the fact that Joseph and Mary were only betrothed and not married. They had promised their lives to each other as husband and wife, yet according to custom, they would not live together as husband and wife until a certain period of time had elapsed. During that time, they would not consummate the marriage until that period of time had passed. A situation arises that poses a problem: Joseph learned that Mary had become pregnant.
Joseph was left with a couple of options. Option 1 would be to divorce her. This would have been a very simple and easy thing to do. It would have meant little difficulty for Joseph should he do that. What’s more, it would have been his right to do so since Mary was the one who cheated on him. Mary, a less-than second-class citizen would have born the entire fault and the law would have sided with Joseph because he was a male. In ancient Judaism, betrothals, unlike our modern engagements, were as binding as marriage; an economic transaction had united the couple. Even though they had not yet consummated the marriage, their betrothal could be ended only by divorce or by the death of one party. Unfaithfulness, however, was universally regarded as grounds for divorce, and Jewish law, like Roman law and all ancient Mediterranean custom, would have expected Joseph to divorce Mary.
Option 2 would be to have Mary put to death for her act of infidelity. Because of the law of the land, death would have been an option. According to Deuteronomy 22, the life of Mary, and ultimately Jesus, could have been in jeopardy if Joseph had wanted to press the issue. Joseph did not desire any harm to come to Mary because he was a just man.
Option 3 was that he could accept the child as his own. With that would come a certain stigma, since he and Mary were only betrothed – meaning that though they were married in the eyes of God, yet not married in the eyes of the government, the stigma would be that he willingly married a woman who had not only cheated on him with another man, she became pregnant by that man as well. It would not be Joseph’s responsibility to care for this child, since he has no tie to the child. Joseph, with the options before him, had settled on Option 1, to divorce Mary, but do it in a quiet way so as not to bring about shame to her for her act of infidelity against him.
However, Option 1 was not what God had intended for Joseph. He sent the angel to Joseph with a message, a message from God: “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.” Any questions or doubts that he had about his betrothed have now been answered. There was no adultery on Mary’s part. There was no other man in their relationship. Instead, God our heavenly Father, has chosen to use Mary and Joseph as His chosen instruments in bringing Jesus, the Son of God, into the world.
Joseph did a complete 180° upon hearing the words of the angel. Instead of quietly divorcing Mary, he instead embraced her and the Child that she was carrying, for this was not just any child, but it was the very Son of God. Joseph assumed his role as step-father to this Child, knowing that He would save His people from their sins. He didn’t know what that would look like or how it would be accomplished, but he didn’t need to know. Instead, he trusted the words of the angel and cared for the Child as his own.
As hard as it might be for some to believe, Christmas is really for you. It is about Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, come into the flesh for you, in order to live a perfect life and die a criminal’s death for you. Christmas is about the giving of a Gift, the Gift of Jesus and what He comes to bring you: forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is not about the presents that are wrapped under the tree or the presents that we give to one another. Christmas is all about the gift that God gives to you. God gives to you the one and only Gift that you will ever need, for this Gift gives to you what is most important – everlasting life.
This Son born to Joseph and Mary is the Son born to all creation, to you and to me. It is the Son “born that no man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” This Child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate is like no other child that ever has been, is, or ever will be. This is the very Son of God made flesh for you. This is the very Son of God who came to take your sins upon Himself. This is Jesus, the Lord saves. Jesus came not to merely save a person or a few. He came in order to save and redeem all of mankind, including you, for He is the Messiah which the prophet Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years before.
This Babe that lies in a manger, this is the One whom was told of long ago. He is the Messiah that is promised of in the Scriptures, the One who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has come to be Immanuel, God with us. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.