Reading: Matthew 1.18-25
These days, of course, we have several numbers - a tax-file number, a social security number, a medicare number, a PIN number and several others besides. But are you a name or a number? Are you a person or a computer file? Do you have identity, character and importance?
Parents have always attached importance to the naming of their children. Sometimes before the day of birth they have carefully picked out two names - boy and girl. But when the baby is born, they have reconsidered because they didn't think the chosen name fitted their newborn baby!
Names are chosen for a number of reasons. If you'd like some fancy words for these reasons, we can call them ancestral, emulative and euphonic. Put in simpler terms, names are sometimes given for family reasons - a traditional family name, the name of a parent or grandparent. Names are sometimes given because of someone who is admired - a film or football star, a politician, royalty... Names are also given because they "sound nice".
In Bible times a name was far more than a personal label. It was closely associated with the person's character, with the circumstances of their birth, with the promises of what they are to be. The importance of the name is seen in cases where names were changed. So Abram's name ("exalted father") is changed to Abraham ("father of many") (Gen.17.5). Jacob the cheat became Israel the one who struggles with God (Gen.35.10). Simon the listener became Peter the rock (Jn.1.42). These names were all far more significant than our use of names. They spoke of divine promise, character and life's work.
"What are you going to call him/her?" is a question frequently asked of new parents. "But, sir, they don't have numbers, only names!" It is interesting to reflect that, soon after his birth, Jesus was counted. For their census purposes the Roman officials were only interested in numbers, not names! But you can't relate to a number! What are you going to call him?
So the Lord offered to give a sign of his plans and power to the King. But the king refused. So the Lord gave a sign - not just to the king for his immediate comfort, but to the whole nation as part of the meaning of their history - the sign of the virgin and her son. And he shall be called Immanuel - "God with us".
Sometimes people have despised the Lord's sign, said that a virgin birth is impossible, ridiculous because it doesn't happen that way. But they haven't understood the promise. Here is something totally unique in the history of the world. Here is God himself coming to live as a human person. With restraint - yet with unfaltering clarity - the Gospel records make the virgin birth quite clear. This is how God the Son came into this world.
And his name? Immanuel - God with us!
That's when he had his dream! The angel reminded Joseph of this old prophecy in Isaiah about the virgin birth and the coming of Immanuel. Had he ever believed that the prophecy was to be taken literally? Tucked in there in among the political intrigue of Isaiah's time, surely it was just some local occurrence - some young girl (still a virgin) would become old enough to get married and have a baby! Yet - Immanuel? God with us? That part of the prophecy could never have been local! Not something ordinary but extraordinary! Joseph, Mary has not been unfaithful to you - this is the work of the Holy Spirit! And when she has given birth to her son, you are to call his name Jesus!
Jesus! That's the old name Joshua - "The Lord is salvation". You will call his name Jesus, "for he will save his people from their sins".
So that's why God is coming into the world - to save his people from their sins!
The womb - and the tomb! The cradle - and the cross!
he shepherds saw some angels. The wise men were led by a star. But the circumstances of his birth were treasured in Mary's heart - to be revealed to the inquiring Gospel writer. And as Jesus went about he didn't wear any special clothes, any special insignia - not even that circle of light that religious artists have given him! He healed the sick, but avoided publicity for his miracles. In the heat of the controversy about him he was put to death on a Roman cross. And then, as Paul wrote later, "he was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death" (Romans 1.4).
So now we are "in the know." How do we respond to Immanuel - God with us? We can look back at the religious leaders of the time and assert that they "got it all wrong." But, if that is who Jesus really is - how do we respond to him?
This had been an important question for his closest followers. Peter had come to the conclusion that "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" (Matthew 16.16) A good beginning, Peter, but what are you going to do about it? What a person to follow! But then - "I do not know that man" (Matthew 26.69-75).
Then there was Thomas. He hadn't been present when the risen Jesus first appeared to the disciples. But when he saw him - "My Lord and my God!" (John 20.28)
Jesus - "he will save his people from their sins." Paul wrote about him, God has shown us how much he loves us: it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!" (Romans 5.8) How do we respond to what God in his love has done for us?
The Bible speaks about what I like to call a two-fold turn. There needs to be a turning from sin - we call this repentance. It is our acknowledgment of our wrong in attitude and actions. It is a genuine sorrow for our sins. But it is a conscious turning away from sin. And there needs to be a turning to Christ - we call this faith. It is the acknowledgment that he died for my sins. It is also a trust or dependence on him as my Saviour.
Immanuel - "my Lord and my God!" From this point on, I submit my life to you, to know and do your will in everything I do! We need his help to do his will. That's why he promised us his Spirit!
Turn from your own sin, failure, disillusionment. Turn to Jesus as your Saviour. Allow him to be your Lord.
Prayer: Jesus, you came for me! You know all about me! You came to save me from my sins! I turn from my sins to trust in you as my Saviour and to obey you as my Lord and my God! Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may do your will! Amen!