Jesus Emmanuel, God Saves by Being With Us

Owen Myers and the band sing Mother of God by The Brilliance at end of audio!

Inspired by Matthew 1:18-25

Advent marks the beginning of a new year in our three year lectionary cycle of readings. On Christ the King Sunday we finished year C, and on the first Sunday of Advent, we began year A. Each year has its own selection of readings, and therefore has its own emphases, its own flavor if you will. Each year also focuses on a different gospel. In year B and C, most of the gospel readings will come from Mark and Luke respectively, and in year A we focus on the Gospel of Matthew. John is sprinkled in here and there throughout all three years because, well, he’s an oddball. He just doesn’t fit in anywhere very nicely. So, we’re already four Sunday’s into year A, the year of Matthew, and you’d think that we’d just start at the beginning of the Gospel and read right through but that would be too easy.

The lectionary also has to follow each season and holiday and their respective foci, so we end up jumping back and forth in the Gospel and other readings, which can be a little disorienting at times but hopefully the sermons and hymns can help us navigate our way through. So now we find ourselves at the beginning of the book of Matthew, even though this is the fourth Sunday of the year of Matthew but believe it or not there was wisdom in waiting four Sundays to get to the beginning. We are now on the cusp of celebrating the birth of Christ, the advent of Christ, the coming of Christ, and throughout Matthew’s Gospel, he wants to make sure you know who Jesus is.

Matthew believes whole heartedly that this Jesus was more than just a prophet, more than just a wise teacher, more than a great Jewish rabbi. Matthew believed whole heartedly that this Jesus that he is about tell you about, is the Christ, the anointed one, the savior foretold in Hebrew scripture, what we call the Old Testament. And even more than that, Jesus, the Christ, was God with us. You don’t really find this in Mark’s gospel, the first one written and my personal favorite. Mark presents Christ in a very human way, kind of a what you see is what you get, and then let’s you decide who and what this Jesus is for yourself. Maybe that’s why I like Mark so much, I don’t like people telling me what I should believe!

Matthew on the other hand, doesn’t leave anything to chance, doesn’t leave it in our hands to decide who Jesus is. This is too important for Matthew. Matthew wants you to finish reading his Gospel and know, without a shred of doubt, who and what this Jesus is. And he does this in some very masterful and beautiful ways, one of which I’d like to share with you now, just in case you don’t already know this.

In this very first story of Jesus in this Gospel, we hear about a dream that Joseph had where he gets told to name the baby Jesus, which means God saves. And then we have Matthew quoting scripture, something he will do constantly, this time it’s from Isaiah, “Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him, Emmanuel.” And then there’s this little editorial comment, either by Matthew himself but probably by a later scribe, “Emmanuel means God with us.”

So, Joseph is told to name the baby Jesus, so that it will fulfill the prophecy to call him Emmanuel. Wait, huh? And here’s the strange part. You never hear the name Emmanuel again! Well, sort of, but we’ll get to that in a second. So we have the name Jesus, God saves. And then the name Emmanuel, God with us. Hmmmm. Put them together and you have God saves, by being with us. Now you may be thinking, wait a second pastor, I thought Jesus saved by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Well, that can depend on your theology but when we talk of the cross and the empty tomb we are talking big picture salvation, the salvation of the cosmos at the end of all things.

Which is great and amazing and so very needed! But I don’t know about you but I need salvation now. I need saving in the here and now. I need saving in the midst of all of life’s struggles, hardships, defeats, disappointments as we talked about last week, I need saving in all the ups and downs of everyday life! And that’s where Matthew’s Jesus Emmanuel comes in. Matthew knew that it wasn’t going to be enough to say God will save you but wanted his readers to know how and when that was going to be accomplished—which is why it was so important for us to know who and what Jesus was.

Because no prophet could both declare and deliver salvation by being with us through life’s ups and downs. No wise teacher could both declare and deliver salvation by being with us. No ordinary Jewish rabbi could both declare and deliver salvation by being with us. Only Emmanuel could do that, only the one whom we could look to and say with confidence that was God with us—and more than that, this is God still with us. Now, I mentioned that the name Emmanuel never appears again but that wasn’t the whole truth. To get to the whole truth we have break that most holy and unwritten literary rule and skip to the end of the book of Matthew.

I know, who does that? Well, I am. Twenty-eight chapters later, at the end of this gospel, at the end of that last chapter, in fact, the very last sentences of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” And then, last sentence of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, wait for it, “I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” There it is, Emmanuel. Only it transforms from God with us at the beginning of this Gospel, to I myself will be with you, every day, until the end of this present age.

Are those not two beautiful bookends to the Gospel of Matthew? And who else can make a promise like that and keep it? Matthew would say no one but Emmanuel, God with us. In this year of Matthew, I want you to explore with me, what this means for us, what does it look like for God to be with us. Our author Matthew will give us many examples, but I want you to add your own. What has it looked like in your life for God to be with you? How has that taken shape? And in doing so, may we be every thankful for a God who promises to be with us, no matter what. Amen.

Owen Myers and the band sing Mother of God by The Brilliance at end of audio!

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