Sermon preached for Advent 4A on Sunday, December 22, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
[The angel told Joseph] “‘[Mary] 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” (vv 21-23).
Have you ever wondered why your parents gave you the name they did? Were you named after a family member or friend? Does your name have a special meaning? Or did your parents pick it because it was unique and they liked the way it sounded? Naming a child is an important thing because that name will be with them for the rest of their life. They’ll be defined by that name; that’s how people will know them. And this is the same for our Lord. We know our Lord by His name, the name that tells us what He does and who He is.
Most parents spend a lot of time deciding on their child’s name. From the moment they find out they’re having a child, they start thinking. They go through list after list picking out names, crossing some off and then adding some back on, until finally they make their decision. But Mary and Joseph didn’t have that conversation. The angel told Joseph exactly what name to give Mary’s Son.
But at first, Joseph didn’t want to give Mary’s Son a name, because he planned on divorcing her because she was found with child. Matthew tells us he planned on doing this quietly because he was a just man and didn’t want put Mary to shame. But being a just man means that Joseph would’ve been in the right to shame Mary, because all evidence showed her to be an adulterer. But Joseph was going to set aside his “justness” to show Mary mercy.
As Joseph was planning all of this, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him that Mary hadn’t been unfaithful. She hadn’t broken her betrothal vows. The Child inside here was conceived by the Spirit. He was God’s Son, and Joseph was to give Him the name “Jesus.” Jesus’ name was divinely picked to announce what He would do: He would save His people from their sins. But, Mary’s Son wasn’t the only one called “Jesus” at that time.
The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “the LORD is salvation.” This was a very popular name at that time, and it still is today. In the Old Testament, Joshua was Moses’ successor who finally led God’s people into the Promised Land. Because of this, many boys were named “Joshua,” many were called “Jesus,” but only Mary’s Son would fulfill that name. In Jesus, the LORD God was providing salvation for His people. Jesus’ name and work go together. The very name “Jesus” proclaims why He was born, so God could save His people from their sin.
It’s amazing to think about the fact that God saves us from our sin, because sin is our problem. We’re the cause of it. It’s all our fault. And in our world, if something is your fault, you have to fix it. You have to pay for it. You have to suffer the consequence of it. Everything that happens as a result of sin, we justly deserve. We deserve shame for our sin. We deserve broken relationships. We deserve a hard life. We deserve conflict and strife. We deserve war. We deserve the chaos of the world. We deserve death. But God doesn’t leave us alone to receive these just consequences of our sin. He comes to us being Immanuel to save us.
God saves you, He provides for your salvation by being “God with us.” At Christ’s birth, God physically visited and walked among us. Jesus is the God Man. He’s 100% human. He has the same flesh and blood and bone that you have. He experienced all the normal stages of life that you’ve experienced. He hungered and thirst like you do. He felt physical pain and sorrow and grief like you do. He even felt the temptation of sin like you do, but He never gave in to this temptation, because He was also 100% God.
Jesus is fully man and at the same time fully God. He was born the same way you were born, but He wasn’t conceived in the same way. Just as the angel told Joseph, Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He’s the very Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds. And because of this, He was born without the original sin that infects us, passed down through the generations from our first parents. Because He’s fully God, He was able to resist sin’s temptations. No sinful deed was done by Him. No sinful word came from His mouth. No sinful thought crossed His mind. 100% God, 100% Man, 100% sinless come to save us from our sin.
Jesus had to be “God with us” to save you. He had to be Man so He could know your temptation, but He had to be God to resist that temptation. He had to be Man so He could die on the cross, but He had to be God so that He could defeat death and rise again. This is what makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross a saving sacrifice. This is why your sins are forgiven and you’re saved, because of who Jesus is.
On the cross a great exchange took place. Jesus, Immanuel, the God Man, exchanged His perfect, sinless life for your sinful one. On the cross, Jesus took the death you rightly deserve and because of that, God the Father forgives you all your sins. The Lord would be just to “divorce” you, to send you away in shame, to send you away into everlasting death, but instead, with great mercy, He sent His Son to be Immanuel...and He continues to be Immanuel.
Jesus continues to be “God with us” as He delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation to you through His Word and Sacrament. Every time the Good News of Jesus is preached, salvation is proclaimed in His name. Every time the pastor speaks Absolution, Jesus is there taking the guilt of your sin away. Every time a person is brought into God’s family through Baptism, Jesus is there, putting His name on them. Every time you come to this altar, Jesus is there, physically there, feeding you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Through these Means of Grace Jesus continues to be what His name proclaims: He continues to be God with us to save you from your sins.
There are many reasons why parents give their children the names they do. Jesus’ name uniquely proclaims what He does and who He is. God gave His Son the name “Jesus” because He would save His people from their sins. Jesus is called Immanuel, because He is “God with us.” When we hear our Lord’s name spoken, we’re reminded of what He’s done for us, and what He continues to do for us. Jesus’ name is the Name, the only name by which we’re saved. In Jesus’ name. Amen.