4th Sunday in Advent – A LSB #359
Text – Matthew 1:20
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.”
AN ANGEL OF THE LORD
She called out, “Good morning,” but received no answer. So she went to the bed & drew back the curtains. There lay her grandmother with her cap pulled far over her face, & looking very strange. “Oh, grandmother,” she said, “what big ears you have.” “The better to hear you with, my child,” was the reply.
“But, grandmother, what big eyes you have,” she said. “The better to see you with, my dear.” “But, grandmother, what large hands you have.” “The better to hug you with.” “Oh, but, grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have.” “The better to eat you with.”
And scarcely had the wolf said this, than with one bound he was out of bed & swallowed up Little Red Riding Hood. When the wolf had appeased his appetite, he lay down again in the bed, fell asleep & began to snore very loud.
The huntsman was just passing the house, & thought to himself, how the old woman is snoring. I must see if she wants anything. So he went into the room, & when he came to the bed, he saw that the wolf was lying in it. “Do I find you here, you old sinner,” said he.
It is December 18, 2016, & I could make the exact same declaration of every one of you, “Do I find you here, you old sinner.” Why do we think we are any more welcome in God’s house, than the wolf who was in the home of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother? That uncomfortable point is where we need to begin if we’re going to appreciate the message Matthew’s Gospel reading has for us this morning. You may have heard it a hundred times before, but you have never really understood the brilliant message the angel of the Lord brought to Joseph if you cannot explain why the words of the huntsman are so appropriate to every one of us – “Do I find you here, you old sinner,” said he.
In our day & age, Christmas is all about good news. Anymore, no one actually gives someone else coal in their stocking for Christmas. Because of that all of us struggle to truly appreciate the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation. As we are influenced by, & connected to, the culture around us so much of what we know is the light that the world would shine upon us.
St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11: “But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
You see, the unbelieving world also thinks it has the light. That secular world spends a lot of time trying to shine its light upon us, trying to “educate” us, trying to communicate its message to us. What we see with our eyes, hear with our ears & feel with our heart is not always the true light that we believe it to be.
It’s not right. It’s not fair, but Satan does disguise himself as an angel of light. He is the original author of fake news, & of evil itself. Each time any one of us tells even the slightest sort of lie we are working for the father of lies. In every one of those situations we are disguising ourselves as an angel of light.
Thank God almighty that today’s Gospel reading reveals to us a man named Joseph who listens to, & works for, a different type of angel: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” (Matthew 1:24 ESV) That is the 1st critical thing we need to learn if we are going to appreciate the message that today’s Gospel reading from Matthew has for us. Even though Joseph, & each one of us, is an old sinner you & I are not slaves to sin as Joseph so clearly demonstrated. It is possible to follow an angel of the Lord rather than someone disguised as an angel of light.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it is possible for children of God to follow an angel of the Lord, we are still old sinners, & truth be told we are predominantly weak, broken & fallen creatures. Pride cometh before the fall because pride always focuses me inside myself instead of outside. God’s Word was given to point out where real help, & real hope, come from:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven & earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV) In the 1st chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, he writes about our heavenly Father sending a messenger to Joseph. It’s necessary because his wife is pregnant & Joseph knows that it’s not his child.
You can imagine the pain & confusion he’s feeling because he believes he’s been betrayed by the woman to whom he has pledged his very life. For all he can tell, Mary has been merely disguising herself as angel of light. Now it appears that the truth has come out. There was no way Joseph was going to discover God’s truth in this matter on his own.
Remember, like us, & like his ancestor David, Joseph is a weak, broken & fallen creature. He’s lost the full image of God in which Adam had been created. Like us, Joseph also lives in a broken world. In his culture it was customary to stone to death someone in Mary’s situation. As badly as he’d been hurt, Joseph could not bring himself to put her to shame in that way.
Yet, in spite of his kind heart, Joseph was not going to be reconciled to Mary from within. He needed the answer, & he needed healing, to come to him from outside of himself. St. Matthew wrote how God intervenes & reveals the truth to Joseph through two different voices: that of the angel & that of the prophet Isaiah. So there’s the 2nd critical thing we need to learn if we’re going to appreciate the message from God’s Holy Spirit concerning the origin & the birth of Jesus. Sinful human beings cannot understand, even a cute story about a baby in a manger, unless God reveals His purpose to save us in & through Jesus.
The Creator of all there is sent His only-begotten Son to save us precisely because all of us are old sinners. That is the focus & the starting point for the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity to take on human flesh & blood in order to reconnect us old sinners to our Creator. Thus, the Lutheran understanding of God’s Word always begins with confessing our sins.
You may have heard, or even said, from time to time: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You & justly deserved Your temporal & eternal punishment.” (LSB, page 213) That uncomfortable point is what all human beings eventually need come to grips with to appreciate the events of Christmas.
“Do I find you here, you old sinner.” “…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. She will bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)
That is why even old sinners like us are welcome in God’s house, far more so than the wolf in the home of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem precisely because you & I cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
Christmas is God’s answer to our sins, our confusion, doubts & fears, the likes of which Joseph had many as he came to grips with the unlikely pregnancy of his wife. Jesus’ conception & birth were not actually nice, cute & comfortable like we so often picture them. They were born out of our desperate need to be rescued & healed. The circumstances of Jesus’ life, beginning to end, were hard & mysterious. We need the faith of Joseph to believe it. Those of us who are adults need to recover our sense of mystery as we approach these last days before Christmas. Maybe that’s why children love this season so well, because they have not yet lost their sense of the mystery of it all. Jesus’ birth as a baby in a manger is often so clear to them.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the angel of the Lord, through speaking to Joseph, freed Mary’s husband to be what God intended Joseph to be all along, the father of the Lamb of God. All the events, the Bible points out as miracles, are simply a revealing of our Lord’s power to erase the effects of sin.
That very message has the power to create & evoke a trusting response in men & women across the planet & across the millennia of time. We can now surrender our disguise as an angel of light. Our sins, even our lies, have been washed away. Amen.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half-spent was the night. O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe; O Savior, King of glory, Who dost our weakness know: bring us at length we pray to the bright courts of heaven, & to the endless day. Amen. LSB 359:2, 4
 Little Red Riding Hood, by the Grimm Brothers; © 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Foreign Languages; English translation by Margaret Hunt.
 11:12-14 NLT
Pastor Dean R. Poellet