Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (A)
December 23, 2007
Text: Matt. 1:18-25

The circumstances of our Lord’s birth are the stuff of soap opera scripts. Joseph loves Mary. But it appears she loves another. Though engaged to be married to Joseph, Mary has been found to be with child, and Joseph knows the child isn’t his. He is heartbroken. She must love another. Still, he loves her. So he does not wish to shame her, even though he has every right under Jewish law to do so. In fact, under Jewish law, he has the right to put her to death by stoning. But he does not. He loves her too much. He will bear his heartache and let her go in peace. He wishes to put her away quietly, to divorce her without public spectacle. He does not desire her harm. He resolves to set her free. He wants her to be happy. He loves her that much.

How could he believe Mary’s story? She claims the child is God’s Son. Why would she add insult to injury by conceiving such an unbelievable lie? Joseph is a broken man with a broken relationship. But as Joseph considers these things, as he wallows in his misery and brokenness, behold, an angel of the Lord appears 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” (Matt. 1:20; ESV). Could it be true? Could Mary have been telling the truth all along? Could it be that this broken relationship can be put back together again? Yes! For the Child is indeed God’s Son. He will do more than restore the broken relationship of Mary and Joseph. “(Y)ou shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). He will restore the broken relationship between God and sinful humanity. He will restore your relationship to God, broken by sin. He will restore you and make you into a child of God.

Yes, Joseph, it is true. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (v. 23). God has come in the flesh to restore what sinful flesh has broken. Jesus is the promised Messiah. It is He of whom all the Law and the prophets testify. God has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of His servant David. The name “Jesus,” “Joshua” in the Hebrew, means “The Lord saves.” That is what the Seed of Mary has come to do. Therefore Joseph need not fear. He should take Mary as his wife. He should be a faithful husband to Mary, and a faithful foster father to Mary’s Son. For Mary’s Son is the Son of God, begotten of the Father, conceived by the Holy Spirit. His birth is the most important birth that ever was or ever shall be. He is the hope of His people Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. On His birth hangs the salvation of the whole world.

When you consider it, the virgin birth seems just as implausible to us as it did to Joseph. In fact, we like to think that we are much more scientifically advanced than Joseph or any of the other biblical characters. If Joseph understood the science of conception and birth, we certainly do. And virgins simply don’t conceive and maintain their virginity. Reason cannot comprehend this great mystery. Reason is a good gift of God, but it is fallen. It has been corrupted by sin. One of the devil’s favorite weapons to use against us, to tear down our faith, is therefore reason. And the devil even infiltrates the holy Christian Church with his unholy misuse of reason. Liberal mainline Protestantism is replete with deniers of the virgin birth of Jesus, and has been for years. Take, for example, the comments of popular early 20th Century preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick. Fosdick preached that while simple Christians continued to hold to their antiquated view of the virgin birth, enlightened Christians knew better. He explained, “those first disciples adored Jesus – as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God – as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God's special influence and intention in his birth – as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.”[1] In other words, according to this brand of liberal Christianity, whatever in the Scriptures conflicts with our human reason must be thrown out. Beloved, this is rank heresy. It is a lie of the devil. And this lie has bewitched and beguiled much of the liberal leadership of modern mainline Christianity.

Consider what is at stake in the question of the virgin birth. Conservative Christians from other denominations are quick to point out that the very truth of the Scriptures is at stake, and they are right of course. If the virgin birth is not true, the Scriptures have lied, and nothing the Scriptures say is trustworthy. But as important as that point is, an even more crucial issue is at stake. If the virgin birth is not literally true, if Joseph or some other man is Jesus’ biological father, then Jesus is not divine. He is not God. And if that is the case, we are still in our sins. Jesus had to be God in the flesh to save us. He had to be a flesh and blood man to redeem flesh and blood men, to fulfill the Law in our place, to suffer and die as our substitute. But He also had to be true God. If Jesus were just another man, even if He were a good man, He could not be a perfect man, and He could not make atonement for all of humanity. He would have been a sinner like us. He could only have died for Himself. But because Jesus is God, He was born sinless, perfect, righteous, and could make atonement for the sins of the whole world. Because Jesus is God He could defeat the devil, sin, and death forever. Because Jesus is God, He could heal our diseases, carry our sorrows, and bring us peace through the punishment He bore for us. Jesus had to be both God and man to be the mediator between God and men. Thus in God’s infinite wisdom, our Lord Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.”

Can it really be true? Yes, it can be, and is. Jesus is God’s Son. He puts all that is broken back together again, whether it be broken relationships, broken lives, broken bodies, a broken world. Jesus has come to make all that is wrong right again and to redeem us poor miserable sinners. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). In Jesus, God is united to our flesh. Jesus is our brother and God is our Father. In Jesus, our flesh is redeemed and made holy. Jesus is born into our broken, sinful, soap opera lives to grant us forgiveness and restoration.

All of this despite our reason. Reason is a good gift of God to be used for His glory and the benefit of our neighbor. But because our reason is fallen, it can conflict with the Word of God. When this is the case, we should do as St. Joseph did. We should believe the Word of the Lord, heed it, and obey it. The angel told Joseph in a dream that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Despite every reasonable objection to virgin births, he should believe this virgin birth, because God said it was true. And God does not lie. This Child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. “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” (Matt. 1:24-25). He believed and heeded the Word of the Lord. So likewise should we. God does not lie to us, either. He loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world as one of us, to redeem us. God became a man. It is a great miracle. It is beyond all comprehension. But it is real. It is true. It is wonderful.

It is good and right that Jesus is born into scandal and a broken relationship, suspicions of betrayal and broken hearts. He was born to redeem us from these things. He was born to redeem us from sin and its evil effects. He was born to redeem us for Himself and to restore our broken relationship to God. It was for us men and for our salvation that God the Son came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man. He was made man to be crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffer on the cross, die, and be buried. But the Gospel does not end there. Jesus lives. He is risen. He is the first fruits of the new creation. And here once again our reason comes into conflict with the Word. Jesus makes all things new, in spite of appearances. All of the things that are broken in this world He comes to re-create. They will be new and perfect in the resurrection. That includes our broken bodies and broken souls. We, too, will rise to live with Him in a new creation. And then our reason, also, will be restored and perfected. Then our reason will have no conflict with the Word. Then all things will be conformed at last to His perfection. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in Albert Mohler, “Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?”


Blogger Elijah the Tishbite said...

"It is good and right that Jesus is born into scandal and a broken relationship, suspicions of betrayal and broken hearts."



1:06 AM  

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