Malankara World

Christmas - The Birthday of Jesus

Fulfillment: "God is Here"

by John Jewell

Focus Text: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us." [Matthew 1:23]

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

What is the most wonderful gift you have ever received? Can you recall a time when a gift you received was just exactly the right thing -- the "perfect" gift? A gift that warmed your heart and thrilled your soul. "Just what I was hoping for!" you said.

Or have you ever struggled to find the perfect gift for someone else? You tremble as they open the gift. "I sure hope she likes it," you're thinking. Husbands and boyfriends are particularly vulnerable to these "perfect gift jitters." Like the fellow in this story:

It was a few days before Christmas when I met with a couple who were going to be married the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Although I don't usually perform weddings on Christmas Eve, I agreed to this one because this couple had been through some very difficult times and they saw their relationship as a gift from God. "We really want to celebrate our marriage on Christmas Eve because we are each other's greatest gift." There was a contagious quality about the "we're so in love" glow they wore.

When they showed up for their appointment however, it was clear that not all was well with "Romeo and Juliette." They went to opposite ends of the large sofa in my office and plunked themselves down. They sat silently -- looking glum. It was clear I was going to have to jump start the conversation for these two usually bubbly people.

"What's up?" I tendered.

She glares at him, "You tell him!"

"I gave her her Christmas present."

"That's a bad thing?" I respond.

She continues, "Tell him what you gave me!"

"Let me explain." He's obviously wounded. "I gave her the gift early because she needed it..."

"You gave me a set of tires!" she blurts out!"

"They were Michelins!" he responds, "Sheess!" The temperature is rising fast.

The rest of our conversation was along the lines of "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus". The groom to be confessed that the bride to be would probably not get that warm and glowing feeling of fulfillment deep within from a set of tires. And she agreed that however misguided, her fiancée was trying to respond to a need he saw. (I shared with them my own experience of giving my wife a very nice set of pots and pans for Christmas early on in our marriage. She had even pointed them out in the store as something she would like to have. 'Nuff said!)


When you reflect on the most wonderful gift you have ever received, it will more than likely be something more than a material thing -- or it will be a material object with tremendous meaning attached to it.

I visited with an elderly couple in a new parish some years ago. They lived alone and as far as I knew they did not have any children. They were sharing some of their memories as they showed me around the small home. On a dresser in the bedroom sat a funny greenish clay saucer or bowl -- you couldn't really tell. In faded black letters written by a child's hand were the words, "Love, Joey."

"And what is this?" I asked.

Tears filled the woman's eyes as she explained, "That's a candy dish our son made for us in school when he was six years old. We lost him in a drowning accident when he was eight." As it turns out Joey was their only child.

There is not enough money in the world to buy that funny green dish! It is a one of a kind, never to be replaced gift. The value of Joey's gift goes beyond anything the world could ever give.


Our Scripture today speaks of a gift that is one of a kind -- and it is a gift that also goes beyond anything the world could every offer. A never to be repeated, amazing gift of God to every one who will receive it. It is the gift of John 3:16, the most memorized verse in the Christian world:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." John 3:16

Matthew's story points us to two dimensions of gift giving. There is the wrapping and manner in which the gift is given. Secondly there is the actual content of the gift.

The Wrapping of God's Great Gift

Very often the way a gift is wrapped and presented can mean everything. A dozen roses delivered by a singing quartet to your wife's place of work will make for a birthday gift never to be forgotten. (Also guaranteed to demolish a doghouse in about 3 seconds flat!) The woman who was proposed to on the Oprah show in front of a nationwide television audience will never forget the way she received her engagement ring.

You would not likely wrap an engagement ring in newspaper or a Rolex watch in a brown paper bag. Who would display a dozen roses in an oil can or showcase a crystal chandelier in a bedroom closet?

So how do you suppose God wrapped up and displayed the greatest gift of all -- the gift St. Paul called "indescribable"? If it were you or me, would we not want the Son of God to be born in a royal household where heralds would trumpet his arrival and servants would wait upon his every need. Should the Son of God not have the finest silken gowns and bejeweled pillows upon which to lay his head? Shouldn't the whole world be waiting at the palace gates to hear the news of his birth?

Anybody who is anybody today has a public relations expert to advise them on important issues. Certainly a publicist would consider Matthew 1:18-25 a terrible way to go about the birth of the long awaited Messiah!

Think about it. An unplanned pregnancy of an unwed mother engaged to a blue collar Galilean without the means or connections to arrange a birthing suite! "Lord," the publicity person would protest, "This simply won't fly -- no one will believe it. Messiah born in a barn? To a woman pregnant before her marriage? This will never do!"

And yet, as St. Paul says, "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom..." (I Cor. 1:25) Could there be any more powerful way to invite the "everyone" of John 3:16? If Messiah had been born in a castle, to a royal family in the midst of all the splendor this world can offer -- he could not be my Messiah -- for I am none of those things. No, God wrapped his great gift of love in the most simple way and presented it through the most humble parents and thus made it possible for any of us, from the greatest to the least to reach out and receive God's gift!

Deep within our hearts there sometimes lingers a sense that we might not be acceptable to a holy, almighty, righteous God. But a God who comes to a stable and chooses humble folk like Mary and Joseph to be parents of the Messiah -- well such a God just might care for the likes of me!

The Content of God's Great Gift

When I come to unwrap God's great gift, there are two powerful words that tell me what I have received.

Jesus! and Emmanuel!

The name Jesus (or Joshua) means savior.¹ In Jesus, God has given us the "One who saves". This savior who was born in a barn and condemned to a cross can surely understand the trials and difficulties you and I face.

The name Emmanuel means "God is with us." In Jesus, God has come to be present with us -- all of us! The manger and the cross give strong witness to that. To his followers Jesus promised, "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you..." (John 14:18) It is the ancient promise God made to young Joshua who felt the incredible weight of the mantle of Moses. "I will never leave you or forsake you." (Joshua 1:5)

The Gift of God's Presence is the ultimate, perfect gift that fulfills the deepest longings of the human heart. The gift Matthew speaks of in our scripture is the perfect gift we've all longed for -- sometimes without even knowing consciously. The virgin's child will be called Emmanuel -- God is with us. This gift is the fulfillment of the deepest hopes and dreams of human history -- the arrival of God in our midst. This is the gift that Augustine spoke of when he said, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."

In a time of national trial, Isaiah cried out for the presence of God, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence..." (64:1) The prophet Joel spoke of a time when Israel's trials would be over and says on behalf of God, "You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other." (Joel 2:27) The concluding vision of fulfillment in the bible is that of Revelation 21:3-4, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

In other words, when God is with us, there is perfect peace and every longing of every heart is fulfilled. We glimpse something of this in Christmas worship when our hearts are open and expectant and we sing the words of Phillips Brooks, "O holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born in us today."

As we come to the very threshold of another Christmas, may God grant that each one of us may by faith unwrap the great gift of God.

Jesus saves!

God is with us!

Amen!


Notes On The Text (Matthew 1:18-25)

¹ Actually the word Jesus "Yeshua" means "Yahweh is salvation"

v. 21 The words "Jesus, for he shall save" -- are almost lilting in Hebrew -- Jesus (Yeshua) shall save (Yoshia). "Yeshua, yoshia."

v.22 "... to fulfill what had been spoken" - Matthew uses this fulfillment formula seven different times, (1:22, 2:15, 3:15, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4) which is consistent with his desire to show the strong connection between the O.T. and the coming of Messiah in Jesus.

There is voluminous literature on the subject of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew's use of the verse. We note here simply a summary of three essential positions:

1) There are some who see Isa. 7:14 as referring to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth alone. (The "single reference") theory. Isaiah's intent would be along the line of: "Since you refuse to trust in God -- your alliance with the Assyrians will finally not be the answer for Judah. Judah will crumble! However, God has a sign for you anyway, a virgin will conceive...." The fact that the sign would not have a current application does not matter because Ahaz has already tuned out anyway.

2) Isaiah's verse is historically limited to the time when the throne of Ahaz, King of Juadah was threatened by the King of Israel (Pekah) and the King of Syria (Rezin). Isaiah urges Ahaz to trust Yahweh and even to ask a sign of God's protection. Ahaz declines the sign in phony humility -- and instead is trusting in an alliance with Assyria. Isaiah's response is to give the 7:14 sign anyway. A young woman will bear a child and name the child Emmanuel -- saying in effect, there are those who trust God in spite of all the current troubles. Matthew's use of the verse, in this view, is a bit tortured.

3) Some see Isa. 7:14 as having a "double reference". Isaiah indeed speaks to Ahaz and the contemporary situation, but the spirit who "bears along" (prophero) the words of the prophet is pointing ahead to an ultimate salvation as well as giving a sign for the current crisis.

v.23 As with the discussion of Isaiah 7:14, The literature on the virgin birth is legion and we won't rehearse it here, except for a linguistic note or two. Matthew translates the Hebrew, " 'almah" (young woman and by implication, virgin) using "parthenos", or "virgin". The Septuagint also translates Isaiah 7:14 'almah with "parthenos".

Obviously a discussion of the intent of Isaiah 7:14 relates to the discussion of the virgin birth. Luke and Matthew have independent sources of the virgin birth, demonstrating the circulation of the teaching in Christian circles. The notion of a pagan source for this story or a "competing" motivation are without merit in that the creative power of God and intervention of the Spirit in both accounts would likely not be a product of stories about births resulting from interaction between gods and women or goddesses and men.

v.24 Interesting note that the O.T. Joseph's dreams got him into trouble, while the N.T. Joseph's dreams got him out of trouble!

See Also:

Joseph: A Humble Man for a Heavenly Mission
by Alan Carr

Joseph - The Unsung Hero of Christmas
by Alan Carr

Joseph - a Righteous Man
by Rev. Adrian Dieleman

Joseph - The Man God Chose to Raise His Son
by Alan Carr

Joseph, A Righteous Man
by Dr. Don Y. Gordon

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