Matthew 1:18-24; Isaiah 7:10-16;Emmanuel (12-21-14)

By the Rev. Bob Gochenour


A grade school class was putting on a Christmas play which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the Inn in Bethlehem.

In this class was one little boy who wanted to play the role of Joseph.

When the parts were handed out, his biggest rival was given that part.

The boy was given the part of the Inn keeper instead.

He was very upset about this.

So during rehearsals he kept plotting in his mind what he might do on the night of the performance to get even with his rival—the one playing Joseph.

Weeks of rehearsals passed, but the boy’s anger didn’t.

Finally, the night of the performance came.

Everyone was in their costume and was prepared for the play.

Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage.

Joseph knocked on the door of the Inn.

The Innkeeper opened the door and said his lines—gruffly asking what Joseph wanted.

Joseph answered: “We’d like to have a room for the night.”

Suddenly the Inn-keeper went off script and sought his revenge:

“Great, Come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house.”

For a few seconds, poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do.

A long uncomfortable silence took over.

The Inn-keeper smiled a wicked smile of delight.

Joseph recovered and looked past the Inn-keeper, first to his left and then to his right and said:

“No wife of mine is going to stay in a DUMP like this!

Come on Mary, let’s go to the barn!”

Once again the play was back on course.

Is there any worse role in a Christmas pageant than that of Joseph?

Mary coos and beams and acknowledges all the visitors, shepherds adore, angels sing, wise men bring gifts, and even those children cast as sheep and cows get to make animal noises.

But Joseph only gets to stand there.

Obviously, Joseph, in the eyes of most of us, is a highly peripheral figure in this whole story.
In Matthew's text, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Here it is Joseph who grappled with the unexpected and upsetting intrusion of the Holy Spirit into his nicely-planned life.

In Matthew, the whole miracle of Christmas momentarily rested on Joseph's shoulders, awaiting his freely chosen decision to either accept or reject the stunning news of an impending Messiah - and the shocking way in which this salvation would enter the world.

It was one thing to read and venerate the prophets and their words.

It was quite another thing to have one's own betrothed suddenly become that chosen virgin, to be pregnant when not yet married.

Have you ever noticed how Matthew records the birth of Jesus?

There is no journey to Bethlehem, no little donkey, no Innkeeper, no stable, no manger, no shepherds and no angel chorus.

All Matthew says is this:

Joseph “took Mary as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24)

This is shocking in its simplicity.

Matthew records the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint.

Joseph's reaction was one of complete openness, confidence and acceptance.

At this time of year when we all become a little more aware of our own blessings and the needs of others, we see that Joseph practiced the ultimate in hospitality.

He opened his heart and spirit, his home and his whole future, to the intrusion (it must have seemed more like an invasion) of the divine.

The trusting welcome Joseph gave to the divine he also extended to Mary - whose own openness to the power of God had placed her in a precarious position, completely dependent upon Joseph's compassion and trust. 

The courtesies Joseph freely offered Mary were extensive. He gave her his name - which safeguarded her reputation and welfare as well as gave the expected child the authority of a Davidic heritage.

Joseph’s dream wedding had turned to a nightmare.

Mary was with child out of wedlock: this child was not his!

The scandal could cost Mary her life: Moses’ law required stoning to death.

Joseph decided to divorce her quietly in order to shield her from disgrace and death.

The angel of the Lord intervened with a new dream.

The angel brought Joseph GOOD NEWS:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”(Matt. 1:20)

The angel revealed God’s Word of grace:

Mary has not been unfaithful to Joseph;

Mary has not been unfaithful to God;

Mary is the miraculous recipient of God’s miracle child: Messiah.

There is no scandal!

There is no sin!

There is no need for a public stoning!

There is no need to divorce her.

Celebrate your wedding day and take Mary as your wife.

Celebrate the birth of my son and adopt him as your own son.

Accept your new role as his “earthly father” and raise him.


God’s Good News did not stop there—the angel reveals the name and nature of this new miracle son:

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus” (Matt 1:21)

The Hebrew name for Jesus is Yeshua; or in English—Joshua.

This name recalls the miracle of the first Joshua of Israel.

Joshua was the 2nd leader of the Exodus, after Moses died.

He completed the journey of Israel as they crossed the Jordan River from the east and settled in the Promised Land.

He led Israel in the victorious campaign against Jericho.

Following God’s directions, he marshalled the Israel forces to cause the walls of Jericho fall and capture the city.

Joshua led the children of Israel out of the wilderness to the promised land.

Jesus is the 2nd Joshua: He will lead the children of God out of their spiritual wilderness into God’s Promised Land of salvation.

As Joshua did before him; Jesus will conquer all of the Human Walls of sin and death and topple the spiritual oppressions of Jericho.

Jesus will deliver humanity from all the powers of evil.

Jesus will provide humanity with the blessings of this new “promised land”: he will provide a land flowing with milk and honey; a dwelling place with God; the experience of God’s eternal grace; a life of joy and spiritual peace.

The angel further defines the meaning of the name of Jesus:

“and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus/Joshua means in Hebrew: “God saves.”

This miraculous birth has a miraculous purpose:

God plans to save all humankind.


The angel reveals a second name for baby Jesus.

“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

The name Emmanuel comes from an Old Testament story of hope.

King Ahaz was the ruler of Judah—southern kingdom of Israel.

He was an evil king:

       He followed after pagan gods;

       He set up shrines to worship idols;

       He sacrificed his own son to a pagan god.

God sent his judgment upon Ahaz to turn him around.

King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Ephraim surrounded King Ahaz in his capital city of Jerusalem.

King Ahaz and the residents were terrified: chaos, rationing, hunger, the stock market crashed, panic erupted, and there was wide-spread hopelessness.

Just think of every disaster movie rolled up into one!

They had no assurance of any future.

They thought it was the end of times—it certainly felt like their last days were upon them!

God sent Isaiah with a Word of hope: Emmanuel.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

The original meaning of this text had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus as the Messiah of the world.

This was a Word of hope for the people of that day.

God was giving this desperate people a word of assurance.

An unknown woman will bear a son in the natural way of childbirth.

This son will be called Emmanuel which means God is with us.

God provided the residents this sign of hope: God is with us in the midst of the siege; God will deliver you from these hard times; you have a future!

 This un-named child will be the sign of God’s faithfulness.

In two years time—the crisis will be over.

The siege will end and you can re-build your lives in peace.

Now, the Angel tells Joseph that his new adopted son Jesus will become like the Emmanuel sign of the past.

Jesus will bring hope and the assurance of God’s love to the world in a new and powerful way.

Jesus will be called Emmanuel because he will give all humanity a glorious future with God.

The angel is telling Joseph that his crisis is over:

he can take Mary as his wife;

he can accept Jesus as his adopted son;

he can accept his future without fear.

The name Emmanuel is Good News for us as well.

Jesus will bring us salvation, hope and a good future.

Jesus gives us the Good News: God is with us.

God is with us when our enemies are ready to crash down the doors of our lives.

God is with us when all the world is falling down around us.

God is with us when we are stuck in the dump of this world.

God is with us when we have lost all hope for a good future.

God is with us even if we feel besieged by frustrations, broken relationships, financial pressures, health issues, loss, and bankrupt spirits.

This sign of Emmanuel means we have a future with God.

The angel of God is bringing us Good News:

The crisis is over!

Our enemies are defeated!

God has sent us Jesus—the Savior, the Messiah, our Hope.

Jesus will be our Emmanuel forever reminding us that:

God is with us!