Advent 21: Mary Did You Know?
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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.” 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). 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 1:18-25
The Time of Fulfillment
It is finally happening. In our journey through the Bible looking forward to Jesus, we are finally stepping over into the New Testament. These last 5 days we are going to be looking at the beginning of each gospel account in preparation for Christmas.
When you read through Matthew’s version of the story you can’t help but be impressed by how much of the Old Testament he quotes when referring to the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Remember, Matthew was Jewish and was writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, so it makes a lot of sense that he would remind them of the Old Testament prophecies. The most exciting part of this being the fact that all of those promises that God made to his people are finally coming true. What an amazing privilege that we have to see it all playing out in front of us.
The Righteous Fiancé
The first thing we need to remember here is that engagement worked a little differently in the New Testament time period than it does today. When we see that Joseph and Mary are engaged we need to realize that this was a legal agreement that required an actual divorce in order to break up. It was a way more serious commitment back in those days.
As the narrative unfolds we find out that Mary is pregnant and that it isn’t Joseph’s baby. If he wanted to, Joseph could have taken her in front of the courts and had her severely punished. However, he is a righteous man. He seems to really love and care for her. Let’s not let it go unnoticed that even before God reveals to him the reality of the situation, when he still thinks that he has been betrayed by Mary, he planned on showing her grace.
The Forgotten Prophecy
While Joseph was thinking about what to do with Mary, God sent an angel to him to give him instructions. Now to be honest we know less about this vision than we do about Mary’s angelic visit in Luke 1. Here, all we know is that an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream telling him about what’s going on with Mary. What he tells him is unbelievable and humanly impossible. He tells him that there is no earthly father for her baby. “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”. What?! This is such an unbelievable message that it required an angelic messenger to make it believable.
In Luke’s account, we get to see Mary’s side of it. Let’s be honest, Mary’s surprise would have to be 1,000 times more surprising than Joseph’s… since we’re actually talking about a baby inside her body. But should it really be a surprise? I mean we already talked about Isaiah 7:14. Didn’t they know that God had prophesied that a virgin would have a baby and that that baby would be our savior?
This is where we need to revisit our conversation about prophecies with more than one fulfillment. I really believe that most Jews believed that the prophecy in Isaiah 7 was totally fulfilled with Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Think about it. If they really thought that it was still supposed to be fulfilled wouldn’t every unmarried, Jewish girl be thinking, “Fingers crossed, it might be me?” I think so. I mean, when Joe found out about Mary’s pregnancy shouldn’t his first thought have been, “I wonder if Mary is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the seed of the woman from Genesis 3 and the virgin that Isaiah prophesied about in Isaiah 7?” (Okay that might be an exaggeration… but you get the point) Anyway, I think Mary and Joseph are rightfully surprised because even though we realize that God clearly communicated in Isaiah about a virgin birth, it totally wasn’t on their radar. It really is surprising.
I Love It When a Plan Comes Together
It’s all finally starting to fit in place. We said this before but now it is even clearer, when Isaiah prophecied about the virgin having a baby it was always about Mary having Jesus. Yes, it was also about what happened in Isaiah 8 but that doesn’t take anything away from it really being about Jesus. This is so clear because now we understand the full meaning of the baby being called “Immanuel”. Sure in Isaiah 8 the baby that was born showed God’s people that he was with them, but when Jesus is born he actually is God. He truly is God with us.
In addition to being called Immanuel, God tells Joseph that he is supposed to name the baby Jesus. But this needs a little explanation since he tells him, “for he will save his people from their sins”. How does that fit in? Well, the name Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Joshua which means, “Yahweh is salvation”. If there was any doubt in Joseph’s mind that his son was going to be the anointed rescuer it should be gone now. God is telling him that the little baby that he has been chosen to raise, is both the Messiah and God incarnate.
As we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus we need to remember that this is not something that easy to believe. We need to intentionally make sure that we don’t totally take all of this for granted. We’ve seen nativity sets our whole lives, but let’s pause today to remember what a huge deal this is. God worked a miracle when Mary became pregnant. It took an angelic vision to convince them about what was going on, so don’t be surprised if others don’t believe it either.
We need to follow the example of Joseph and respond with faith. We can see from this text that Joseph believed because he “named the baby Jesus”. This was his way of saying that this child was the savior of the world. He was born as a savior 2,000 years ago and today remains the only way for people to be saved from their sins.
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