Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Before Joseph had come together with Mary she was found to be pregnant. Joseph had to think about this. Of course, he wasn't thinking how this could have happened. Joseph knew how women got pregnant. Rather, because he was a merciful man, he was thinking how to divorce Mary, while causing the least amount of shame to her. Yet, Joseph didn't know. He didn't know how Mary became pregnant, because Mary became pregnant in a different way than any women has ever become or ever will become pregnant. Mary is a virgin. And she's pregnant with a child. There was no man. Jesus has no human father. This was done by the power of the Holy Spirit, without any flesh or blood or will of a man. This pregnancy was a miracle.
Now, why is it significant that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus? The prophet Isaiah tells us, "They shall call his name "Immanuel, which means, God with us. Jesus does not have a human father. Rather, the Holy Spirit caused him to be conceived from the flesh of the Virgin Mary. The child is sinless. He did not inherit original sin from Joseph. And the child is God. His name, Immanuel doesn't simply mean that God is with him the way God was with the prophets and King David, and spoke through them. No, this title Immanuel means that the name-bearer is God. God is with us forever by joining our human flesh to himself.
Our Gospel lesson clearly identifies the Word as God. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And Scripture clearly says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." God is with us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. He has a human body just like us. He has a human soul, just like us. He has a human will, just like us. Jesus is like us humans in every way, except he is not corrupted with sin as we are. This same Jesus is God, the God who created all things. Through him all things were made and without him was not anything made that was made. And this same God is now a created human being, even a young baby in a manger.
And why is it so important for Jesus to be true God and true man? The angel tells us: "You shall call his name, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." The name Immanuel is strongly connected to the name, Jesus. Immanuel means God with us. Jesus means, The Lord saves. Jesus had to be Immanuel in order for him to be Jesus. Only God become man could saves us from our sins.
Sin is a serious problem. All human beings are sinners. We inherited this from our first parents Adam and Eve. Because Adam sinned, all of us his children are born in sin as King David laments, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 51:5) And this sin is not just a little hick up. Sin corrupts us completely. Ephesians 2 states, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked." And in Romans 7 St. Paul confesses, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh." Sin corrupts completely. And sin isn't anything to laugh at. It is wickedness. Sin causes us to not believe in God. It causes us to hate God and our neighbor. Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, these all flow from within us, because of our sin. Our selfishness, our ability to hurt others by what we say and do, this is sin.
And sin has serious consequences, even more serious than the shame it causes our conscience and the pain it causes our neighbor. The wages of sin is death. And sinners fall short of the glory of God and are condemned to hell. So, all of us are wholly corrupted by sin. And sin kills us and condemns us. So, yes, we need to be saved from sin.
And this is why it was so necessary for Christ to become a man. And this is why it is so marvelous that God now dwells with us. Sin corrupts us so completely and rules our heart like a pilot steers the rudder of a ship. Ephesians 2 states that in our sin we "follow the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." Satan surely is at work in us. His desire is to corrupt us completely with sin. If it were possible, Satan would love to be incarnate himself and join himself permanently to our human race. But as successful as the devil is, he cannot himself become man. And as deeply as sin has corrupted mankind, so that no human being is without sin nor can anyone free himself from the bonds of sin, sin is not essential to be human.
When our God became man, he did not become a sinner. He did not inherit Adam's sin. Yet, he still became entirely human. Sin isn't essential to be human, meaning, it is possible to be a human and to be without sin. There is no human being who has been or will be born without sin, save alone Jesus Christ. That is because we are all corrupted humans. However, God did not create us to be sinners. Christ did not become like a human in every way. Christ became a human being without sin.
And so, as successful the devil was and as completely sin has corrupted our race, the devil could not become human nor could sin become the essence of humanity. Yet, God has become man. God has joined our race more closely than Satan or sin ever could. And he did this so that he could defeat Satan and sin on our behalf. With the confidence that our flesh and blood now sits enthroned in heaven, we can taunt Satan and sin when they attack our conscience, as Paul Gerhardt wrote in a stanza for O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is, which is not included in our hymnal:
Be still, O foe!/ Dost thou not know:
My Friend, my flesh and blood, in heav'n is seated?
What thou didst smite/ The Prince of might
From Jacob's root to glory elevated!
God is man forever. We are sinners now, but the day will come when we will no longer be tainted by sin. Yet, God will still be our brother. God became Immanuel in order for him to save us from the corruption of sin and the molestation of the devil. If Satan wants to attack us, he must attack Christ. For sin to condemn us, it must condemn our God!
Immanuel with no sins of his own took our sins from us, so that he could die for them in our place. God stepped on the scale in our human flesh and raised our sins up so that their debt could never weigh us down again. This is the message the angel is telling Joseph when his virgin bride became pregnant. This is what God is telling us through Isaiah by naming this child God-with-us. This is why the baby in Bethlehem is given the name The Lord Saves!
God became man without the help of man. Joseph didn't do anything to cause Mary to become pregnant. In fact, by his doing nothing God was able to secure for us that Immanuel has come. It is impossible for sinful flesh to cause God to save. Likewise, there is nothing your sin corrupt flesh could do to cause you to be born of God. This too is God's doing. To receive the benefits of Immanuel, you must receive him through faith. Sin cannot believe. So, God must bring a birth by the Spirit. Our Gospel lesson states, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." And our Epistle states, "He saved us, not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit." It is through the power of the same Holy Spirit, who caused Jesus to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary without Joseph's help, that you are reborn through the work of the same Jesus.
Christmas is about the Lord saving us by becoming Immanuel. He did this without our help. He always saves without our help. It is the only way he does save. And this is what makes our salvation certain. God has done it. He has defeated Satan and sin for us. He is our Immanuel. He is our Jesus. Amen.