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Christmas Eve 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2021
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
Have you ever returned home after being away a long time and you find that it feels like maybe the whole trip was just a dream. You were gone for a long time, but back home everything is the same. As I sit by the fire in my little house it sort of feels like nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed – everything.
My name is Joseph, I live in a little village called Nazareth about 25 miles west of the Sea of Galilee up in the hills. I work construction by trade.
A couple of years ago I was sitting right here-----My life is all planned out. I am engaged to be married to a girl named Mary. We have been engaged since we were kids and now we have grown up and the time has come to get married. I built this little house here and look forward to bringing Mary home as my wife and raising a family.
But then I find out that Mary is pregnant. It is devastating news. I do not know who the father is -- I just know that it isn’t me. There is a guy in the village I know who once told me that if his fiancée got pregnant from another guy he would drag her out into the middle of the village square, humiliate her and then stone her to death. I could never do anything like that to Mary; one sin should not need to lead to another. I figure I will just break things off quietly and slink back here to the house with my tail between my legs to lick my wounds. That is my plan when I lay down to sleep. That night a messenger from God appears to me in a dream and tells me, Matthew 1:20–21 (ESV) 20 … “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.” Isaiah the prophet wrote, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means, “God with us.” I don’t know what to think. This baby inside Mary is God with us? This baby is from the Holy Spirit? His name will be Jesus? Jesus is Greek for the Hebrew name Jashawa which means YHWH saves. The LORD saves. I am not completely sure what was going on, but I know I should do what God says to do.
So I bring Mary home as my wife, but we wait to consummate the marriage until after the baby is born. I think things will be okay but it is a rough time for us both. Soon the whole village learns that Mary is pregnant and they all assume they know what happened and I can feel the dirty looks as we go to the market. But at least we have each other to lean on for love and support. And we have this miracle baby growing inside Mary to look forward to. But then Mary tells me that she has to go away for a while. Her relative, Elizabeth, an old woman who has never had children, is pregnant. That’s crazy – but, then my virgin wife is pregnant…God works in mysterious ways.
Mary leaves me alone for three months to endure the all the dirty looks alone. And they become more intense as the rumors swirl that she has left me for good.
But Mary does come home and we settle in waiting for the birth of Jesus. When I put my hand on her belly I can feel him squirming around inside and I can’t wait to meet Him.
But then the whole world is thrown into turmoil. Word reaches all the way to Nazareth from Rome. The emperor, Caesar Augustus, is ordering everyone to their home towns to be counted so Rome can better tax us. Now, I live in Nazareth, but I am a descendant from King David -- not that that helps me much these days. But being from the line of David, Mary and I need to go to Bethlehem, the city of David. It’s not fair. Mary is really pregnant and is having trouble getting around. She has trouble sleeping at night because the baby has decided that is the time to be active. Now we have to walk 90 miles to Bethlehem. Mary is getting ready to give birth, I don’t have any money to travel…this couldn’t have come at a worse time.
But the emperor says to go, so we go. It is a long walk and takes many days. The roads are crowed with all the people travelling due to the census. Bethlehem is crowded. I have family here so we find a place to stay, but we are packed in pretty tight. While we are there, Mary goes into labor and the women take over helping her; they know all about the delivering babies stuff. Jesus is born, but we are unprepared. Someone finds some rags to wrap him in, but there is no bed. The cradle I made is back home in Nazareth. Someone comes up with an idea, shoos the animals away from the feed trough, cleans it out and puts in some fresh straw and a blanket and we lay this miracle baby from the Holy Spirit on a humble bed of straw in a manger.
I’m a proud papa even if I am not the real daddy. I am so happy I could just burst. I still don’t fully understand what all is going on with this baby and what the future holds, but tonight things are good. Soon there comes a knock at the door. Outside is a group of rough and tumble shepherds who are super excited and ask if we know anything about a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Someone told them that there was a woman here who was ready to give birth. We all look at each other, “How did they know?” We invite them in and bring them over to baby Jesus and they tell us this incredible story about how an angel appeared to them in the fields outside Bethlehem. The angel told them, “Luke 2:10–12 (ESV) 10 …“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then they said a whole army of angels sang about glory to God and peace on earth.
Christ, the Lord? Christos is Greek for the Hebrew Messiah. Could it be? Is my stepson the long awaited anointed one who has come to save the Children of Israel? The others there just shake their heads at the shepherd’s crazy tale, but Mary and I know more of what is going on and I think Mary knows better than me. She just smiles knowingly while she feeds the baby. The shepherds leave, but they go all around Bethlehem telling people about baby Jesus and the angels.
We have Jesus circumcised on His eighth day of life. After 40 days we take Him to the temple for Mary’s purification and to redeem Jesus as the firstborn, remembering God passing over the Israelite houses in Egypt marked with the blood of the lamb, but killing the firstborn of the Egyptians.
While we are at the Temple we meet these two people who are there waiting for Jesus to come. It is so strange, but just another confirmation that our baby is no ordinary baby. The one guy holds the baby and says that now he has been set free, but then has a warning, Luke 2:34–35 (ESV) 34 … “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The shepherds told us that the angels sang about peace on earth, but this peace may not be what people are expecting. This older lady is there also, and she, like the shepherds, starts telling everyone about who Jesus is.
Days pass, weeks pass, we visit with family as we wait for the census to be finished. Sometime later we get another strange visit. These peculiar magi, wizards or astrologers or something, from somewhere in the East appear at the door saying they have been following a star which is leading them to the one who has been born King of the Jews. The star stopped over our house in Bethlehem. They come into the house and they worship the baby as if He is a king or God or something. They present the baby with gifts fit for a king; gold and frankincense and myrrh. They tell us that they have been to Jerusalem to inquire about the baby and even talked to King Herod who wants them to go back to Jerusalem and tell him where the baby is so he can also come and worship. This is all way too much. We are just humble folks from Nazareth and now the King of Israel wants to come visit? That’s crazy.
That night I wake up to some noise and look outside and I see the magi sneaking out in the middle of the night. The strange thing is that Jerusalem is north but they are heading east. I lay back down to sleep. Again, an angel of the Lord appears to me in a dream and tells me, “Matthew 2:13 (ESV) 13 …“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Whoa!! Maybe that is why the magi snuck off to the east. You hear people complain now and again how God just isn’t talking to His people anymore; that it has been hundreds of years. I’ll tell you what. God sending you messages does not make life easy. I quickly get up and get dressed. I wake Mary who gets the baby ready. I whisper to her that we need to flee to Egypt and we need to do it now, because God said to do it and if God says to do something you should do it. I wonder for a moment what we are going to do for money, but then I remember the magi’s gifts. God works in mysterious ways. We quietly slip out of town and begin our 400 mile walk to Egypt.
There is not much to say about Egypt. It is hard being a stranger in a strange land. I try to stay close to Mary and Jesus as we lay low and try not to be noticed. I am not a soldier or a spy, I am a carpenter from Nazareth and King Herod is hunting for my child. I don’t know who I can trust, so I trust no one. We live off the magi’s gifts and we get by but it is very lonely being so far from family. At least we have each other and it is great getting to watch Jesus grow and get His teeth and start to stand and walk. After a while, another angel appears to me in a dream to tell me that King Herod is dead and we can return home. So we gather our few belongings and begin the 400 mile walk back to Israel. We stop in Bethlehem and think about staying for a while, but Herod’s son Archelaus is now king there and he is crazier and more ruthless than his father, so we keep going the 90 miles more back to Nazareth. While we are in Bethlehem though, we learn horrifying news. Right after we left Bethlehem the first time, Herod sent his soldiers into town and they went house to house mercilessly slaughtering every baby boy from infants to toddlers. The families are still in shock. They looked at me with a look which I think means, “You knew what was going to happen so you left, but you didn’t warn us.” I did not know that was what Herod would do. I have no words of comfort.
Now we are finally back home in our little house in Nazareth. For how long, only God knows. Mary just put Jesus to bed and I have a moment to sit by the fire and ponder all that has happened. I thought I had my life planned out, but God had different ideas. Unexplainably, He chose me to protect God with us. Since that first visit from an angel life has not been easy, but it has been blessed. There are powerful people who hate my little son and yet the Lord provides what we need. He chose me to help take care of the Messiah who has come to save His people. The thought of that is overwhelming, I am so, so not worthy. Even more overwhelming is that this little guy, who seems so helpless asleep on His bed, is my Savior. He has come to save me from my sin. Save me and save you and save all His people. I don’t know how all that will work out, but I am confident it won’t happen the way people think it should.
Our little boy is God. with us. to save us from our sins, but so far he has not brought glory the way the world thinks of glory. I do not know what comes next, but I will do my best to do what God tells me to do and rejoice that the Messiah, the Savior has come in the person of my stepson Jesus.
Sitting here in the house it almost seems like the past couple of years are just a dream, that everything is the same. But, praise God, everything has changed. God sent His son, my son, to save me from my sins. To save you from your sins. That is the greatest gift of all. Amen.