Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way (Matthew 1:18a).
We gather here once again on Christmas Eve to hear the story of how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. We expect to hear the same story of Joseph and Mary making their way to Bethlehem in order to be registered because of the census that was taking place. We expect to hear that because there was no room in the inn, Jesus had to be born in a stable and placed in a manger. We expect to hear about shepherds who were visited by angels and then made their way into Bethlehem to worship the newborn king. We expect to hear of those shepherds departing from there glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. What we expect is the image of the nativity scene that many of us have in our houses, and like we have in the narthex here in the back of church. But the account of Jesus’ birth in the book of Matthew doesn’t give us what we have come to expect on Christmas Eve.
Expectations. We all have them. Some are negative. Some are positive. We came here tonight with expectations for this service. We open presents with expectations. We go to work and school each day with expectations. So, we can most certainly conclude that Joseph had his fair share of expectations as well.
Joseph was betrothed to Mary. Though we might liken that to an engagement today, it was actually a legally binding agreement. But we can certainly guess that Joseph had countless expectations as he thought of his life of being married to Mary. Like an engaged couple today, we can certainly expect that the excitement was building as they looked forward to the consummation of their union as husband and wife on their wedding day. We can expect that plans were being made galore. We might expect that they were discussing where they would settle after the census, what their home might look like together, maybe Joseph was working on a few furniture projects since he was a carpenter…who knows? But we can certainly guess that it was a time of great expectations.
But have any of us here ever had our great expectations in life shattered? The time of Christmas has a way of bringing out a host of emotions when expectations are not met. Many of us expected our situations in life to be far more grand as we sit here tonight. But then all of a sudden, a diagnosis was delivered. Now every conversation is changed and perhaps the outlook is bleak at best. Or perhaps as we sit here side by side, someone who was expected to be here is not, because death reared its ugly head once again. Now that spot where that person was expected to be, is vacant. Or maybe it’s a relationship that didn’t meet expectations. Where we thought ‘til death do us part meant something, now divorce has darkened all that lies ahead.
We all have great expectations in our lives, yet far too often those expectations become like a plate we have dropped on the floor. Shattered, with far too many pieces to ever know how to put it back together again.
We can only imagine that this must have been the way Joseph felt too. Again, our text says: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. (Pause) When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18). Joseph’s expectations of marriage to Mary had been shattered to pieces.
Mary was expecting a child. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a time of joy and excitement for them as a married couple. In today’s day and age, the whole family would be been called or texted. Pictures of the ultrasound would have been shared on Facebook, and countless people would have responded with their ‘likes’ and various comments congratulating them.
But it was not that way at all for this betrothed couple that had not yet come together as husband and wife. Mary was pregnant…and Joseph was not the father. He must have been devastated as he was only left to conclude that his betrothed bride had been unfaithful. The emotional roller coaster that Joseph went on as he tried to lay his head on the pillow that night must have been nauseating. Anger, sadness, jealousy, sorrow…oh how he must have tossed and turned as he concluded that the only course of action was a quiet divorce. That way, both of their reputations could possibly be saved. They could simply part ways, and Lord willing, Mary would not have to face the stoning that adultery demanded in that day. Yes, a quiet divorce was Joseph’s only solution before he finally drifted off into a deep sleep.
But where Joseph may have expected to awaken to carry out his plan the next day, such plans were met by an angel of the Lord in the depth of a dream. A divine intervention, if you will. For there before him, an angel set forth a new course of action for him to follow with far grander expectations.
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. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Have you ever heard the line: “When we plan, God laughs?” It would seem to be appropriate here with Joseph. He went to bed fully intent on divorcing his wife. But God had a different plan for this marriage, one that went beyond the wildest imagination of Joseph’s expectations for what his life of marriage would be. Joseph and Mary were to be entrusted with the role of parenting the Son of God.
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25). (Pause)
In some way or another, we all come here trying to pick up the pieces of shattered expectations in life. Yet we come here in the candlelight of Christmas Eve and we fix our eyes and ears back to Bethlehem. We behold anew how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. And what we see and hear is that even though Matthew doesn’t meet the expectations of all the pomp and circumstance that we find in Luke, we still are met face to face with Jesus who exceeds all of our expectations.
There may be no inn keeper, or manger, or shepherds…but there is Jesus. And where Jesus is, there is the forgiveness of sins. As the angel proclaimed: She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 2:21).
For that is why we came here, is it not? To have our sins forgiven. To once again hear those words that we desperately need to hear again and again. God so loved the world that He sent His Son. He sent His Son to save us from our sins.
This is the truth that provides us a hope and a future in our world of shattered expectations. Be it disease, death, divorce, or any other dark reality of this sin-filled world. This is the truth that we need to hear at this time of year, or any time of year for that matter. Where this world is filled with countless distractions of all sorts telling us what they think Christmas is all about, the book of Matthew directs us clearly to the only One who gives us hope in this life. No packages, boxes, or bags, just Jesus. Because let’s face it, there is not-a-one-of-us here who doesn’t need Jesus in our lives.
Perhaps there are some of us here who haven’t been to church in while. Or perhaps there may be someone who is hearing about this Jesus for the first time. Or maybe some of us have heard this story time and again. No matter where any of us are at, there is one thing that is certain: We all need Jesus, and His divine intervention in our lives.
We gather here to give thanks that our God did not remain distant leaving us to pick up the pieces on our own. No. Jesus came to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, to be Immanuel, God with us. He joined with us in our life of shattered expectations, and He did far more than we could have ever expected. He endured what we endure. The emotions, the temptations, even death itself.
We may think of Him now as a little infant, weak and crying out to be fed by His mommy. But we know it won’t be long and He will be nailed to a cross, weakened by the whiplashing and loss of blood He had sustained. It will not be long and He will be crying out to His Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It will not be long, and He will breathe His last breath for you and for me.
But you see, those last breaths, were taken to ensure that the life He gave on that cross would never be expected of us. Those last breaths were taken to ensure that the peace we have with God truly does surpass all human understanding. And those last breaths were taken to ensure that this Christmas and every one hereafter is indeed a Merry Christmas! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.