4th Sunday in Advent – A LSB #’s 900:1-3, 5; 332:1-3, 6; 359
Text – Matthew 1:22
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
ALL THIS TOOK PLACE
One of today’s most successful corporations began in 1916 as a carpenter shop in Denmark. When the housing market collapsed, during the Great Depression, the shop was converted to the manufacture of toys. When the toy department burned down in 1960, the company staked its future on the small interlocking plastic bricks that it had been making.
Today, we know the company as Lego, the largest toymaker in the world with annual sales of almost 8 billion dollars. A lot of things had to take place before Lego got to the top. Success is often preceded by difficulties & delays we cannot control – an unfair employer, illness, injury, unfaithful friends.
In the Gospel of Matthew, he begins with a genealogy for Jesus. Most readers consider those to be tedious & boring. It requires great patience & humility to read through a genealogy expecting to find some kind of message from God.
Then, Matthew moves on to what is translated as the birth of Jesus, though what he writes is more literally relating the origin of Jesus. Matthew writes of the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. In our day, pre-marital sex is the norm, but as Joseph is considering this, it was not. He could have had Mary stoned to death for getting pregnant without him.
However, we get a clear view of the character of Joseph through his decision to merely divorce Mary quietly. In spite of the rejection & sorrow he’s feeling, due to what he can only imagine is her betrayal of their covenant vows, Joseph takes time to consider his actions. He does not act rashly out of pain or anger. So, unlike the Gospel of Luke, Matthew makes no mention of a census or a cozy stable full of animals or shepherds or multitudes of angels. Instead, he writes of a scandalous pregnancy, a quietly planned divorce, & a dream-induced change of plans. This is Christmas from Joseph’s point of view:
“But as he considered these things, behold, 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.’” (Matthew 1:20 ESV) Given the circumstances, we can readily agree with God’s decision to send an angel. Mary needed backup on this plan.
Matthew goes on, “‘She will bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive & bear a son, & they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (1:21-23 ESV)
God teased a lot of strings to pull off this plan! Even apart from the unexpected & controversial pregnancy, God was working out a much larger story than Joseph ever could have imagined. And that is where the genealogy comes in. Abraham was born around the year 2166 BC. It is there that Matthew begins his first chapter:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, & Isaac the father of Jacob, & Jacob the father of Judah & his brothers.” (1:1-2 ESV) When we Americans read Matthew 1:22, we tend to think in the immediate context, which is verse 21:
“She will bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Verse 22 & 23 follow, telling us, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive & bear a son, & they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” In our minds, prophecy fulfilled. Check off that box. Christmas is done. But “All this took place” refers to far more than the immediate context. With the words, “All this took place,” Matthew is not simply looking at the conception of Jesus by a virgin. No, he is going all the way back to 2166 BC, & including everything in between.
God called Abram in order to bless him with salvation. Eventually Joseph was born & sold into slavery in Egypt. God raised him up to the right hand of Pharaoh & brought his father & brothers there through a famine. They grew & became numerous so Pharaoh enslaved them, but God brought them through the Red Sea. They rebelled so God left them in the wilderness.
After 40 years & the death of an entire generation, they crossed into the Promised Land. They conquered the people there, but weren’t satisfied & wanted a king like everyone else had. King Saul was chosen & failed. David replaced him & the nation reached its zenith. Solomon was next, but the nation was already turning away from God.
After Solomon, it split in two. In a few hundred years the northern kingdom was conquered & disappeared. During that time Isaiah was God’s prophet & he was called to prophesy to king Ahaz of the remaining southern kingdom. Ahaz refused to believe the sign that God gave him & in a few hundred more years, the Southern Kingdom was swept away as well.
Almost 800 years went by before that OT prophecy to king Ahaz was fulfilled. The virgin Mary conceived a Child by the Holy Spirit. This long-awaited Child would be God’s instrument for saving His people from their sin, yet His own people received Him not. Will you be like Joseph or like Ahaz?
Joseph was one tiny piece of a plan unfolding for thousands of years, through millions of people. Today that plan is still unfolding, by now through billions of people. This Sunday marks one week until Christmas Day. It is likely you are increasingly aware of your own lack of control over history. As much as we try to manage our families & holiday schedules, much less our health, our work, attitude, society, & a host of other things, this time of year has a way of putting us in our place. Our response to this lack of control often includes unrighteous & selfish behavior. You can probably think of specific examples in your own context.
No matter how big we are for our britches you & I are not in charge of our own lives, let alone thousands of years of history. We often treat that like a problem, especially as we insist upon having things our way. But your lack of control, & mine, is actually good news. It is good news because the One who has all control has come to be “God with us.”
That is the good news that Joseph & Mary & the shepherds celebrated amidst all the chaos of that first, & humanly speaking very unplanned Christmas. It is the same good news today, precisely in the chaos of your own lives, because God’s context is not just Joseph & Mary & Jesus. Yahweh’s context includes billions of people over thousands of years.
Jesus is not just God with us. He is also “God FOR us.” He is definitely not God against us, & He has not simply forgiven our sins, but is already at work right now re-creating your spirit & your soul.
For us, too often, Christmas narrows down to desiring that our ideals & wishes & desires might be fulfilled. However, Jesus is so much more than that. He is the fulfillment of all of ancient Israel’s promises & history, thousands of years & billions of people.
In our day & age when people want to invent & shape our own Christ-ideas according to what people think society needs, those who serve God should stress the details all of the Bible shares about Jesus. This Jesus who encapsulates the ancient promises & history of Israel is the only Messiah who can save us from our sins & recreate us for heaven.
As with the Lego company, our lives go through many ups & downs, many
transformations, as we lurch from one thing to the next. May we always keep in mind that God is perfectly capable of managing all the twists & turns of our days here on earth, & that by His grace & mercy, He will deliver us to heaven.
Hopefully the words of Matthew 1:22 will now help you, when you look back on your life, to say, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” Amen.
Savior of the nations, come, virgin’s Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heaven & earth, that the Lord chose such a birth. Not by human flesh & blood, by the Spirit of our God, was the Word of God made flesh – woman’s offspring, pure & fresh. For You are the Father’s Son who in flesh the victory won. By Your mighty power make whole all our ills of flesh & soul. Amen. LSB 332:1-2, 6.
 David C. McCasland, Our Daily Bread. Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, Sept-Nov 1996, Oct 28.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet